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Posts Tagged ‘Storylink.’

“I start by spending as much time as possible with the people involved. And I try to be as quiet as possible, and listen and observe.”
Susannah Grant  (on her writing research of real life people)

Screenwriter Susannah Grant graduated from Amhert College and the American Film Institute, and in 1992 won the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. She then spent several years working on the TV show Party of Five and writing scripts (28 Days, Ever After, andPochantas) which all paved the way for her biggest success to date, writing the script for Erin Brockovich. In the introduction to The Shooting Script book of the script Grant explains:

I set out trying to turn a huge, complicated five-year chunk of (Erin Brockovich’s) life and work into a 120 page cohesive screenplay. The question I’m asked most about this movie is how much of it is true. And my answer is, it’s almost entirely true, but it’s not the whole truth. Any life is complex, and Erin’s, especially in the years of the PG&E trial, was a labyrinth. Writing the script was a matter of figuring out which parts of that labyrinth were essential to the story I was telling; which were germane; which were expendable; and which were inessential. but so damn funny, you couldn’t possibly leave them out.

I holed up in my office and, several months later, emerged with a finished first draft. And let me tell you—handing over a first draft over to anyone is a nerve-wracking experience, but I promise you, nothing compares to the anxiety that comes with giving it to the person on whom it is based.

The real life Erin Brockovich liked the script.  Stephen Soderbergh liked the script. Julia Roberts liked the script. Audiences liked the movie. And the Academy liked Julie Roberts enough as Erin Brockovich to give her an Oscar as Best Actress in a Leading Role. Grant also received and Oscar nomination for her script.

In a Storylink interview with Debra Eckerling, Grant further explains her writing process:

I always have a road map. It is an outline that gets revised as I move along. I start with, “How does this movie start? What’s the first scene? What’s the scene after that?” And I bite off a little piece at a time. It’s like climbing a mountain. You can’t look at the mountain top, you just have to look at the ridge you’re on.

I start with a full outline. Not every beat will be hammered down and I rarely stick to the original file. I always over-outline. … As I write, I amend and revise and condense. I wouldn’t call it an outline, I’d call it a road map that I detour from.

PS. In total, Erin Brockovich received five Academy Award nominations including Albert Finney in his supporting role as Brockovich’s boss, Ed Masry.  Finney, by the way, happens to turn 74 today. Finney came from theater where he was known for his work on Shakespeare plays. If you’ve never seen his roles in Murder on the Orient Express, Under the Volcano, or Shoot the Moon, put them on your Netflix list. Happy Birthday Mr. Finney.

FYI: If you keep track of such things, Grant’s education at Amhert College and the American Film Institute would easily cost $200,000 in today’s dollars, and take a six year commitment.

Scott W. Smith

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That’s it, Eric Guggenheim is the final straw. Is it me or are screenwriter’s names getting longer? Today I’m officially change one of the categories on this blog from “Screenwriting Quote of the Day” to simply “Screenwriting Quote #___.” The last writer I quoted was Mark D. Rosenthal and the post heading just looked too long.

So let it be said, so let it be done.

Wonder what took me so long to edit that down. It’s not like I’m paid by the word like my first writing gig at the Sanford Herald. I think it was 10 cents a word. But, heck, I was nineteen and thrilled to being paid anything to write. (Wish I was making 10 cents a word to write this blog.)

Anyway, back to Eric Guggenheim. Guggenheim sold his first script at age 23 just after he graduated from NYU before going on to write the script for Miracle (on the 1980 US Hockey team).  In an interview he did with Debra Eckerling he was asked, “What separates a good sports movie from a bad one?”

Guggenhiem: If all you have is that big game, you’re lost. The film has to be about something else. Take Seabiscuit for example. It’s a story about loss and healing that just happens to be set against the backdrop of horseracing. Jeff Bridges’ character lost his son, Tobey Maguire’s character lost his family. Chris Cooper’s character lost his way of life. Working with the horse and each other helped to ease those losses.

Since I’ll go on record as Seabiscuit being my favorite movie of the last decade (and most watched), I never get tired of talking about that movie. (And am always surprised by how many people haven’t seen the film.) Sports film, horseracing, big Hollywood film—I get why some people would not be attracted to the film, but if you haven’t seen it give it a try. It really is a well-crafted film that is enjoyable to watch on many levels.

Is your favorite sports film about more than the big game? I know Rocky & Hoosiers are both about broken characters looking for redemption.

And by the way, Debra Eckeling writes for Storylink and has the website Write On Online (which is full of Q&A with writers). And you can follow her on Twitter @writeononline.

Scott W. Smith


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“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
Herb Brooks
1980 Team USA Hockey Coach

Today is the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice.” I remember the day well. And as big as yesterday’s Team USA’s victory was over Canada, it was a blip on the radar compared to the 1980 victory over the USSR.

Even if you weren’t born yet you are probably familiar with the event that happened on February 22, 1980 when the US hockey team defeated the USSR. What made the victory so remarkable was we hadn’t defeated the USSR in 20 years. And for all of that time this country was in a Cold War and it was clear that the USSR was our enemy. High drama.

At that time there were two super powers in the world who both had loads of nuclear arms. Threat of a nuclear war was always at hand. This provided a lot of tension and some great material for Tom Clancey’s novels and quite a few Hollywood films. And, of course, it set the stage for the events that would unfold in the famous game.

I was a high school senior in Florida at the time and had never even seen snow much less been to a hockey game. But 30 year ago the Winter Olympics were special in a different way. It was a world before cable TV and the Internet. So when the Winter Olympics were on one of three available stations every four years—it  was a big deal. (And in a time before glossy, sentimental TV vignette stories, it was us against them. USA verses whoever, as opposed to pulling for the athlete with the most compelling life story.) I didn’t actually watch the game, but I remember being at work and hearing the news and the celebrations that followed.

What also made the USA hockey team’s victory over the USSR so sweet was the USSR did not have pro hockey so the best players in their country of any age and experience were playing against college age guys from the USA. It was a mismatch. The USSR had won Gold in Hockey in all but one Olympic games since 1956. In an exhibition game against Russia just a few weeks before the Olympic games Team USA lost 10-3.

According to Wikipedia, the USA Olympic coach that year was Herb Brooks who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and in high school played on the team that won the state hockey championship. He went on to play at University of Minnesota, despite being cut by the 1960 Olympic team he played on the ’64 & ’68 Olympic squads. He then turned to coaching at the University of Minnesota where he won the NCAA championship in 1974, 1976, and 1979.

That set the stage for the “miracle.” The victory (which wasn’t even for the Gold medal that they would go on to win) was called by Sports Illustrated as the “Greatest Sports Moment of the Century.”

Brooks used a good deal of players who played for him at the University of Minnesota (9 of the 20). Keeping with the theme of this blog, I’m sure more than one was from little towns you’ve never heard of.  For instance, Neal Broten was born in Roseau, Minnesota. (Broten, by the way, who happens to be in the foreground of the SI cover is the only hockey player to play on teams that won the NCAA hockey championship, the Olympic Gold medal, and the Stanley Cup. Not bad for a guy who came from a town with a population of under 3,000 and who stands 5’7.”)

Four of the players were also from Boston University including the US captain Mike Eruzione. Eruzione would be the player who scored the game winning goal in the famous game.

A couple years ago I received a call to video tape Eruzione who was speaking in Iowa to a youth hockey organization. Just before the shoot I remembered one of the few Sports Illustrated covers I kept over the years was the March 3, 1980 issue with the famous cover shot by photographer Heinze Kluetmeier of the victory celebration. I took the magazine with me to the shoot and Eruzione was gracious enough to sign it.

I remember that victory well. It was good day.  Good enough to result in a 1981 TV movie, a documentary that aired on HBO, as well as the 2004 Disney film Miracle starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks.

Miracle was written by Eric Guggenheim. Here is part of a Q&A that Debra Eckerling had with Guggenheim for Storylink.

Q. (Eckerling) Why did you write Miracle?
A. (Guggenheim):I’m drawn to stories about redemption and second chances. For me Miracle was always less about hockey and more about those themes.

Of course I also responded to the fact that this was the ultimate David versus Goliath story. But the biggest draw was the coach, Herb Brooks. In Brooks you had the makings of a terrific character. He wasn’t very likeable, but what’s interesting is that he made a conscious choice to be that way in order to bond his team together. And even if that wasn’t apparent, his backstory made him incredibly sympathetic. Also, the notion that a hockey team could lift the spirits of an entire nation was very intriguing to me.

Scott W. Smith


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Since The Hurt Locker is Mark Boal’s first screenplay I wondered how he first made contact with producer/director Kathryn Bigelow. According to an LA Times article by Claudia Eller Boal & Bigelow first met “years earlier when she developed a TV series for Fox based on an article he wrote about an undercover drug agent.”

With that answer out of the way, I began to wonder where Boal’s picked up how to write a screenplay since he was a trained journalist. And I found the answer in the  article “Inside The Hurt Locker with writer Mark Boal” by Jen Yamato.

Yamato:  Coming from a background in journalism, were you prepared to write in terms of cinematic storytelling?

Boal: No, not really. I was really lucky in that I had worked before that on In the Valley of Elah with Paul Haggis, so that was my introduction to screenwriting. I learned a lot from Paul. Kathryn was very generous with her time and taught me a lot, too, so between the two of them I got my feet wet.

The time in Iraq was really research, and I did additional research after that. What it did was it enabled us to make something that was pretty faithful to what life was like in 2004.

Ahhhh, it all makes sense. Haggis (who I quoted back in November) cut his writing chops back on shows like the Love Boat back in 1985 and many other TV programs before winning back to back Oscar awards for writing the scripts for Crash and Million Dollar Baby. I kept wondering how Boal pulled off such a great first script. Not to take anything away from Boal or the research he did in Iraq, but what a great opportunity he had to have mentor-like relationship with an multiple Academy Award-winning screenwriter who has picked up a few things in his 20+ year career. And then add Bigelow’s experience on top of that I’m guessing that Boal has a pretty solid understanding of screenwriting and I look forward to his next film.

The Writer’ Store is selling The Hurt Locker script published by Newsmarket and Storylink  will also be hosting a live Q&A with Boal on February 16, 2010. You can submit questions online at Storylink.

Related posts: Pandora vs. Baghdad

First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

Scott W. Smith

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