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Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

“Oh, I’ve stolen from the best… I mean I’m a shameless thief.”
Woody Allen

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”
Jim Jarmusch

No, I’m not going to write about writers and artists who create while drinking. But if you read a few bios of writers and artists you’ll realize that more than a few (for whatever reason) have a fondness/weakness for drugs and alcohol. But that’s another post for another day.

I want to address creative influence.

Yesterday, I did a photo shoot and was told by one friend that one of my shots looked like one of the Star Trek movie character posters and other friend said George Hurrell would be proud. Not knowing what either meant I did a quick Google search and discovered that they were both correct. See if you agree.

The photo I took of Josh McCabe is one the left and the other is of actor Eric Bana as the Star Trek character Nero. I don’t recall ever seeing the Nero photo before, but the  similarities are obvious. Black & white photo of white males, dead center  composition with eyes looking up, lit with edge lights to the left and right. (If I shaved Josh’s head and Photoshopped some tattoos from his arm to his face it would be called a dead rip off.)

Now photographer George Hurrell‘s influence I will admit to. When I moved to LA as a 21-year-old there was a place on Hollywood Blvd. that was lined with photos of old movie stars— Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow and the like.  Lots of black and white shots from the 30s and 40s and I’ve always been drawn to that style. Hurrell was one of the best known photographers of movie stars in that era. Here’s one of his shots of Humphrey Bogart next to the photo I took. Again, there are similarities and I understand why the connection was made.

There’s nothing new under the sun. Isn’t Lady Gaga just an updated version of Madonna and Cher? And weren’t they updated versions of Carmen Miranda?

Well now she had a big hat, my it was high
Had bananas and mangos all piled to the sky
How she could balance it, I wouldn’t dare
But they don’t dance like Carmen nowhere
—Jimmy Buffett

From a screenwriting perspective, don’t be surprised (or offended) if someone reads your script and says, “It reminds me of….” Graphic designer Milton Glaser (most famous for his I Love New York design) says that all creativity is is just connecting influences. You have your influences when you create something and the viewer/reader of your work has their influences. Lines are being crossed and connected all the time.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have both talked about boyhood TV shows and movies that influenced the concepts behind Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sometimes the connection is obvious and sometimes obscure. One of the screenplays kicking around my house is Body Heat written by Lawrence Kasden. The 1981 film has often been called a re-make of the 1944 Billy Wilder film Double Indemnity. You can find much online (here’s one) about the connection between the two, and I don’t know if Kasden ever saw Double Indemnity, but the script I have says “An original screenplay by Lawrence Kasden.”

Don’t analyze this stuff too much because it will stifle your creativity. Just keep creating, keep writing.

Scott W. Smith

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“The most fantastic thing about Mr. Fox is the way he shows that while our flaws can bring us down, sometimes, too, we triumph in spite of them and because of them.”
Nancy Churin, review of The Talented Mr. Fox
Dallas Morning News

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorn.”
William Cosgreve
The Mourning Bride (1697)


There are no speeches about the dangers of infidelity in the movie Fatal Attraction. No one says, “There is a proverb that goes, ‘For the lips of the adulteress drip honey, And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter like wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.'”   No, the film does what film does best, it visually and viscerally tells a story. Remember the old adage  — show, don’t tell.

Back in the early 80s producer Stanley Jaffe saw a short film called Diversion by James Dearden and thought it had potential to be a feature. Jaffe’s producing partner Sherry Lansing agreed and they had Dearden write a feature script that both Jaffe and Lansing loved but was turned down by every major studio. Though Jaffe had won a Best Picture Oscar for producing Kramer vs. Kramer a few years earlier it was not thought there was an audience for a film like Fatal Attraction. (No one ever said winning an Oscar made finding funding any easier.)

It took them over four years to get the film made and it not only found a large audience but earned five Oscar nominations. Its altered ending is legendary and may have cost Glenn Close the Oscar, and while it’s possible that the original ending may have been better it also may have been less satisfying for audiences and released and forgotten. We’ll never know.

Here is a key scene in the movie that is a hybrid of the fourth draft of Fatal Attraction and the dialogue as spoken in the finished film. It’s a wonderful scene that captures the essence of fine screenwriting.  The scene appears at 13:30 into the film after Dan (Michael Douglas) and Alex (Glenn Close) who are business associates have trouble getting a cab in the rain and end up sitting down for a drink.

It’s a scene full of subtleties and subtext. A display of simplicity and complexity. An interesting sidenote is the character Alex was originally named Eve, nothing subtle about that which was why it was probably changed.

(We pick up in the middle of the scene where they are sitting down at a restaurant. And you’ll have to endure the funky formatting because my WordPress isn’t allowing me to format this correctly.)

There is a brusqueness in her manner towards the WAITRESS, suggesting a certain lack of empathy with the other women. The WAITRESS goes off. Alex folds her hands and looks at Dan as if to say, ‘What next?’.

DAN
Ahh, it’s funny – being a lawyer’s
a bit like being a doctor. Everyone’s
telling you in their innermost secrets.

ALEX
You must have to be discreet.

DAN
Oh, yeah.

ALEX
Are You?

DAN
Am I what?

ALEX
Discreet.

He looks at her, an ironic smile playing about his lips.

DAN
Yes, I’m discreet.

ALEX
Me too.

She holds his gaze. There is a moment of complicity.

DAN
Can I ask you something? Why don’t you have a
date tonight? Saturday night.

ALEX
I did have a date. Stood him up, that was the phone
call I made. Does that make you feel good?

DAN
It doesn’t make me feel bad.

There is a momentary lull. Finally:

ALEX
So where’s your wife?

Taken by surprise, Dan fumbles for his words.

DAN
Where’s my wife? My wife is in the country with
her parents visiting for the weekend.

ALEX
And you’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.

Dan holds up his hands to protest his innocence.

DAN
I don’t think having dinner with anybody is a crime.

ALEX
Not yet.

DAN
Will it be?

ALEX
I don’t know, what do you think?

DAN
I definitely think it’s going to be up to you.

Alex smiles, She is enjoying the game.

ALEX
Can’t say yet. I haven’t made up my mind.

DAN
At least you’re very honest.

ALEX
We were attracted to each other at the party.
That was obvious. You’re on your own for
the night that’s also obvious. We’re two adults…

A beat.

DAN
Check.

—–

It’s a scene that was wonderfully written and acted. It was also well directed by Adrian Lyne. Dearden received and Oscar nomination for the script and the character Alex Forrest was named by AFI as the #7 villain in movie history.

Lastly, while Dearden did receive sole writing credit for Fatal Attraction, I should point out that Nicholas Meyer was brought in to do some additional writing. Meyer is a graduate of the University of Iowa (B.A.–Theater & Film) and best known for writing a couple Star Trek films, but he was also nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting The Seven-Per-Cent Solution that was based on his New York Times #1 bestselling novel of the same name. The Papers of Nicolas Meyer (working scripts, story ideas, galley proofs, reviews, etc.) are available for research at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #95 (Nicholas Meyer)

Scott W. Smith

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“Every town has festivals of some kind, not too many of them deal with something happening over 200 years from now.”
                                                            Phil Richman
                                                            Riverside, Iowa resident  

 

I didn’t know until yesterday that the future of not only the United States, or even the entire Earth, but the whole safety of the Universe is in the hands of a man born in Riverside, Iowa –Captain James T. Kirk (and his crew, of course.)

Forget that the recent J.J. Abrams version of Star Trek has Kirk being born in space and raised in Iowa. That’s all fiction. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in his book The Making of Star Trek acknowledged that James Tiberius Kirk was in fact born in Iowa. Serious scholars(okay, a few people) have agreed on Riverside, Iowa as the place Kirk will be born in the future.

They even have a rock in Riverside saying so, which, of course, settles the matter.

Riverside is an actual town in Iowa about 20 miles south of Iowa City or about an hour and a half from where I type this in Cedar Falls. It’s just off 218 which is known as the Avenue of the Saints because the highway basically connects St. Louis, MO and St. Saul, MN.

There is a staggering amount of creative literary activity from that stretch of land (which includes The Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Grant Wood and Mark Twain) so it’s safe to say that there is something mystical about this region and it’s not really a surprise that the future captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise is from a small town in Iowa.

If you’re a Star Trek fan you have a good reason to go to Riverside, Iowa next month for the 2009 TREKFEST June 26-29,2009. Walter Koening (Checkov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and Geroege Takei (Sulu) are scheduled to be there. And the Grand Marshal this year will be Steve Miller who in 1984 first encouraged Riverside to declare it was where Captain Kirk had been born. City council later wrote Roddenberry asking for permission to make that a declaration and he agreed.

Last night I did go to see the new Star Trek movie and there are a couple scenes in Iowa. Iowa is a happening place in the future. Not that it’s not now, of course.

“Live long and prosper.”

 

Scott W. Smith

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No one would confuse me with a Trekkie. In fact, I’ve never seen a Star Trek movie. And chances are good that whenever the TV show was on when I was a kid that I was outside playing ball. But when a movie has an opening weekend of $75 million and has made over $200 million worldwide since its release two weeks ago you kinda take notice. Thought I find out about the writers and discovered the team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. 

It turns out that they have been writing together since just after graduating from high school. And they are red hot Hollywood writers with writing credits on Transformers, Mission: Impossible III, and many episodes of the TV program Alias. Just in their mid-30s now it’s safe to assume that you’ll be seeing their name on the big screen for perhaps as long as screen are still big.

So how do these two writers work together? I found a Q&A that Alex Billington did with them online at Firstshowing.net :

 

Alex: Tying back to the beginning, how do you step into the process of collaborating? What I mean is, does one of you write the dialogue, the other write the story, or is there an equal share between what is contributed to the script from both of you? Does one of you finish the first draft and the next take a look at it? How do you work together? How does your chemistry work between you two when working on a script?

Orci: Altogether different, but Alex and I right now are talking to you from across the table that we’ve been sitting at for the last five years. We sit across from each other, each with our own computer and our scripts are our conversations. We contribute equally, to figuring out what the story is and then actually writing down what is said and how the scenes are blocked, etc.

Kurtzman: It goes back all the way to the way we started writing together, which was pre-internet when we were at college. Bob and I would get on the phone and we would put the phone between our ear and our shoulders for like six hours and just write line for line together, staring at screens half way across the country from each other. That sort of conversation just became what we knew. We didn’t really know any other way. It wasn’t like “All right. You take this scene and that scene and then we’ll divide it up and we’ll come back together.” It was just kind of a conversational line-for-line development that continues to be the way we write now.

 

Related Post: James T. Kirk, Iowa and the Future

 

Scott W. Smith

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safetylast-1

Does anybody really know what time it is?
                                                             Robert Lamm/Chicago

Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By
                                                             Humphrey Bogart
                                                             Casablanca 


Did you know that Three Days of the Condor was based on Six Days of the Condor?

That is the movie Three Days of the Condor was based on the novel Six Days of the Condor.

Why do you think the screenwriters Lorenzo Semple and David Rayfiel compressed the novel by James Grady? I haven’t read any comments by the writers, Robert Redford who was the star, or by director Syndey Pollack on why that was done, but I have a pretty good hunch.

Movies do not handle long passages of time well. More often than not films will compress time for the sake of moving the story forward and keeping your interest.

Screenwriters and producers often talk of a time-lock on a film. A specific set of time the story is set when something must happen by. (“If you don’t get the heck out of Dodge by sunset there will be hell to pay.”) It sets the parameters for the story. Here are some films that have a time-lock:
High Noon
Speed
48 Hours
Apollo 13

Lew Hunter in his book Screenwriting 434 says when you use a time-lock “you inject an urgency into your story that can give it additional drive to heighten audience involvement and anxiety.” Of course, the more organic to the story the better.

Some movie deal with time by placing them in a single day, in just a night, or even in real time in the length of the film:

American Graffiti
The Breakfast Club
Halloween
Phone Booth 
Before Sunrise
Rope 
Timecode 
Russian Ark 

In a talk I heard John Updike give at the University of Iowa earlier this year he spoke about the limitations that film has in showing the passing of time. When he’s writing a novel he can take a person from a baby to old age and it’s no problem for the reader, but in movies it doesn’t work as well. He explained that if your main character is a child for the first 30 minutes of the film they have a certain amount invested in that person and to switch to another person is a jolt.

This may be one of the problems Updike is having in bringing the story of Olympic wrestler/famed college coach Dan Gable to to screen. Gable had a great high school, college career before winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Then he went on to win 10 national championships as a head coach at the University of Iowa before retiring. Then he came back as an assistant coach last year to help Iowa win another national championship.

How do you show that in an hour and a half or two hour movie? And even if you found a way, can you really have the same person play Gable as a 15-year-old high school freshman and Gable as a 63-year-old coach? See the problem there? 

Maybe the digital world will help this in the future and it will be interesting to see the effect on Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where he plays an man born in his eighties and ages backwards. If anyone can pull that off it’s David Fincher & Eric Roth. (Didn’t that once happen on a Star Trek episode?) But it’s still Brad Pitt we are investing in.

Of course there are other exceptions, and generally Hollywood has found some creative ways to deal with the passing of time when needed. For instance, in Forrest Gump we are introduced to Forrest (Tom Hanks) as an adult in the opening scene and while we see Forrest as a child the majority of the film is as an adult. We are invested in Tom Hanks.

In The Natural they chose to have Robert Redford play both the thirtysomething Roy Hobbs as well as the teenage Roy Hobbs. They used soft lighting, shadows (and Redford’s youthful look) to create believability for the audience. 

The remarkable TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman won eight primetime Emmys including two for actress Cicely Tyson. Tyson playing a 110-year old woman reflecting on her life was amazing, and aided greatly by makeup and costume design (that both also won Emmys) as well as a whole creative team that brought the Ernest J. Gaines novel to life. (Leonard Maltin called it “One of TV’s all-time best,” so it’s worth renting of you’ve never seen it.)

One major problem with the passing of time is the amount of money it takes to create different eras. Think of the expense of the cars alone cover the time period of a story set in the 40s, 60s, 80s. Sure it’s been done, but if you are starting out it may be best to avoid that hurdle. (A short time frame also favors lower budget films since you have less continuity issues to worry about. Always good especially if you don’t have a script supervisor.) 

In my post Screenwriting by Numbers (tip #4) I point out some averages related to running time in movies such as most movies tend to be between 90-120 minutes in length and most scenes tend to run between 1-3 minutes long. And if all of this seems cold and artificial let me once again to the great quote by design guru Milton Glazer; “Limitation stimulates the imagination.”

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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