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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Speilberg’

“Think about different ways of telling your story without dialogue…Try to find visual ways to tell your story.”
Jim Mercurio

Dr. Grant: Are you sure the raptors are contained?
Dr. Sattler: Unless they figure out how to open doors.
Jurassic Park, written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp

“In Jurassic Park in the kitchen scene where the velociraptors are chasing the kids, there’s no way the kids should escape velociraptors, but they’ve got home field advantage. Everything about the kitchen is used against the velociraptors. There’s doors and they have claws. There’s stainless steel which has a mirror-like reflection but it’s also slippery. And the tile floor is slippery, too. And there’s a freezer that has a weird handle. So all these things together are how these kids are able to escape the velociraptors. And basically [the kids] have home field advantage, it’s using that location in a clever way.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio  ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

P.S. There are even a few more layers to that classic Spielberg directed scene where the filmmakers used the location and props to add conflict and drama:
1) The first thing the kids do when they enter the kitchen is turn off the lights again using what’s at hand for survival, giving a horror like lighting to the scene. (But the DP used small windows placed on high on the kitchen set to allow light to spill into the kitchen so it’s not pitch dark.)
2)  It’s used against the kids where the ladle falls to the ground altering the velocirapors of their location.
3) The round window in the kitchen door adds drama and a touch of humor when the velociraptor  breathes on the window and then peeks through the window and his own condensation.
4) Once the velociraptors figure out how to use the handle on the door, it’s one of those heavy doors that closes automatically so there is a little push back the raptor as to figure out.
5) The raptors make a loud noise which reverberates through the kitchen full of reflective surfaces and the young boy covers his ears.
6) After the raptor fully enters the kitchen, what’s worse than being hunted by a raptor in a kitchen? Being hunted by two raptors in a kitchen!
7) At one spot it actually looks like another visual humor cue where we see just the raptors claws on the tile floor and it looks to me as if there is a little tap, tap, tap of the claw as if to say, “Now where are those little kids I’d like to eat?”
8) The tail of the raptors is used to push over many pots and pans that crash on top of the kids and then onto the hard floor.
9) The young girl uses the ladle to distract the raptors because they are close to the boy and he is frozen in terror.
10) A door jams in one of the places where the young girl tries to hide.
11) Kitchens tend to have ice, right? The filmmakers use that as well.
12) What the filmmakers didn’t use: A round door handle on the kitchen door which would have prevented the raptors from entering in the first place. Of course, they could have and raptors could have just pounded the door down making for a dramatic entrance. But there was a nice set-up/pay off by playing off the line, “Unless they figure out how to open doors.”

Related posts:
Visual Conflict
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show Don’t Tell (Part 2)
Everything I learned in Film School (Tip #1)

Scott W. Smith

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“I think it’s impossible to be a writer and not draw from your own life…I see shadows all of the time in my work—things from my life.”
Robin Swicord

“I see shadows of certain characters from script to script. I’m interested in ambition certainly. I see that strain running through [my work]—like The Rivals* a script I sold on [actresses] Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. And that thing of Eleonora Duse being the newcomer, the one no one expected much of because she was from Podunk little Italy, and theater was really happening in Paris and London. I found echos of my small town childhood and her desire to leave there and sort of take on the world. So I do think that’s one of the things we can’t escape— that we end up telling our own story behind the mask of whatever story we take on.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

P.S. The flip side to yesterday’s post about the long journey to get Little Women (1994) produced is The Rivals still hasn’t been produced, though Steven Speilberg was once attached to produce and/or director the movie with  Nicole Kidman said to be cast as Sarah Bernhardt.

Related posts:
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Emotional Autobiography (‘On the Waterfront’)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson) Pixar lets the directors create an ‘autobiography.’ In other words, things that are important to us make it into the film.”
E.T. & Emotional Autobiography

Scott W. Smith

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You find someone to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door
Don Henley
New York Minute

I know it’s Thanksgiving day, but it’s also my 25th wedding anniversary. (No, I didn’t get married on Thanksgiving, it just happens to be where it falls this year.) Can I tell you a story?  I won’t bore you with all the details, but if you’ve ever wondered—as a friend once ask me—”How did you end up in Iowa?”—here’s the answer.

After getting interested in writing short stories, photography, and video production growing up in Central Florida I attended film school at the University of Miami for one year. (Even was a walk-on on the football team where Jim Kelly was the quarterback.) Made a few short films and decided to transfer to film school out in LA.

In my senior year I met my wife to be in an elevator in Burbank. Can you get any more romantic than that? She was a model & actress from Denver and had two kids. We got married a year and a half later in a covered bridge in Vail, Colorado. (That really was romantic.)

She worked as a temp at various industry related places (Disney, Warners, Paramount, NBC, Technicolor) which was part of our greater plan for me to break in. I worked as a photographer and then as a 16mm cameraman/editor for a production company in Burbank. By the time I was 25 and thought I was on the L.A. fast track.

Then life happens the way it does. On top of a few other things the Whittier earthquake happened and we decided to move to Florida where the cost of living was cheaper and they were just starting to build “Hollywood East” in Orlando as Disney and Universal were building theme parks that promised to have real working studios. It looked good on paper.

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out either but I ended up producing and directing videos for a group in the 90s just as digital revolution was taking off. That got me on the ground floor of working with AVID and eventually Final Cut Pro. Fast forward to 2003 where not only had my step kids both graduated from high school and college, but my step-daughter was married and had a couple kids. (For the record, I was an empty-nester grandpa at age 37.)

My step-daughter and her family had moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa and when my wife and I would visit and I found myself saying, “I could live in a place like this some day.” By that time I had my own little production company in Florida and I was doing some freelance producing for a TV program in Chicago that brought me to the Midwest from time to time. As often as I could I’d visit Cedar Falls.

Eventually, my wife and I thought it would be best to live closer to Chicago and we decided to try living in Cedar Falls (a five hour drive from Chicago and 3 1/2 hours from Minneapolis) and see if we could make that work. It took a little work to make it work, but I eventually met some young guys here who had a web design company and I started doing some productions for them.

This just happened to be in 2005-2006 as video for the Internet was just starting to take off. (Hard to believe now that You Tube only started in 2005.) We ended up forming a new company in 2007 called River Run Productions and we’ve watched video for the Internet grow. I’ve had a front row seat view of watching the production world totally evolve. And part of the change has been the world of blogging and how information and entertainment is distributed.

Moving to Iowa not only forced me to embrace the changes (tapeless production, multiple hats on productions, blogging) it also allowed me to tap into a great literary tradition as well as a Midwest mythology.  It certainly wasn’t in my mindset that I’d start writing a blog on screenwriting in January of ’08 that it would win an Emmy and get shout outs and links from people like Tom Cruise, Edward Burns, and Diablo Cody—but that’s all happened. And oddly enough, it’s brought me connections that I never had in my five years in L.A.

And it’s happened in part because of people like you who’ve visited Screenwriting from Iowa from time to time. As the views have increased month after month it’s given me encouragement to continue this slightly time-consuming endeavor. So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you all stopping by and I do hope it helps you in your writing and your dreams wherever you call home.

That 24-year-old me in the above picture thought he was going to be the next Steven Speilberg. Didn’t happen. But to quote one of Minnesota-based singer Sara Groves’ songs, there are “Different Kinds of Happy.” I just have to get Robert Duvall and former Iowan Ben Foster interested in my latest script and the whole story could have a Hollywood ending.

And I’m thankful for my wife who’s been on this crazy journey with me these past 25 years. Happy Anniversary.

Scott W. Smith


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 I hate snakes, Jock. I hate ’em. 
                                        Indiana Jones
                                       Raiders of the Lost Ark 

How did Indiana Jones come to hate snakes? Well, thanks to the discovery of the Indiana Jones Story Conference we now know. Here is the evolution of an idea as transcribed in 1978 in an exchange between Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasden. Leading up to this exchange they have decided to shut Jones inside the “Well of Souls”  with a couple torches and think of ways to terrorize him.

G — … The idea of the Nazis putting tigers in there…You know what it’s like to fly in a tiger from South Africa.

S — It would have to be a neighborhood tiger.

G — There aren’t any tigers out there.

S — I’m not in love with the idea.

G — You could have bats and stuff, make it slightly spooky.

S — I like the idea of, while the water’s rising, he climbs up onto the rocks, he sees a column which is weak, he finds a rock and pulls it out of the wall. He begins pounding away at the column as the water is rising. His hands are all bloody. He’s able to loosen the column so that it falls through a wall or through the door. 

G — And then all the water rushes though?

S — And he swims with the water. It’s a waterfall.

G — The only problem with the water is it’s going to be hard to do, and it’s going to be hard to rationalize it. We can’t. We can call it the temple of life and establish that it has a lot of water in it. But, at the same time, it’s like the sand. Plus it’s such a classic thing.

S — What about snakes? All these snakes come out.

G — People hate snakes. Possibly when he gets down there in the first place.

S — It’s like hundred of thousands of snakes.

(They continue to develop the idea and then work their way backwards to make sure the snake scene is properly foreshadowed by letting the audience know early on that Jones hates snakes. That allows for maximum impact during the “Well of Souls” scene.)

G –It should be slightly amusing that he hates snakes, and then he opens this up, “I can’t go down there. Why did there have to be snakes, Anything but snakes.” You can play it for comedy. The one thing that could happen is he gets trapped with all these snakes.

S –Another thing that would be interesting for complete abject terror, as you see these thousands of snakes, you cut to macro insert shots, snakes laying eggs, little snakes hatching, two snakes eating each other. All this propagation is going on inside this huge tomb.

In the screenplay the set up that Indy hates snakes is on page 11 and the payoff happens on page 63. And they save the pay off when it will have the maximum impact—as Indy is close to the very thing he is after the Ark of the Covenant.  This is how the script describes the scene:

                                                INDY
                    The Ark must be in that stone case. What’s that gray
                   stuff all over the floor —

He breaks off realizing exactly what that carpet is. He blanches. Indiana Jones blanches. 

Indy drops his torch on the floor of the Well. This is answered by the most horrific HISSING imaginable.

WHAT HE SEES. That thick carpet of moving. It’s alive. It’s thousands and thousands of deadly poisonous snakes—Egyptian asps. And the only thing that seems capable of avoiding this venomous groundcover is the alter. The snakes ebb and flow near it, but never encroach on it, as though repelled by some invisible force.

Indy shakes his head and talks to himself.

                                               INDY
                     Why snakes? Why did it have to be snakes.
                    Anything else.

Though I first saw that movie when it was released almost 30 years ago I remember the creepy (yet humorous) impact that scene had on me. (Though I’m not sure why the screenwriter used the word “blanches” at that moment other than I think he used to teach high school English. I would prefer “His face instantly goes pale.”)

It was a great movie moment and now you know there is no mystical place screenwriters go to for great ideas. They simple kick ideas around using their back ground and knowledge until they land on what they think will work best. The results aren’t usually as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the process is the same.

Scott W. Smith

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