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Posts Tagged ‘Stuart Beattie’

“It’s all those movies from my youth that made me want to get into this—all the popcorn movies.  The Die Hards, Empire, the Star Wars films. Those are the films that made me want to be a filmmaker. Recalling those—the excitiment of  being a 10-year-old kid in a theater again, writing for that kid is a big part of doing those kinds of films.”
Writer/director Stuart Beattie

A couple of years ago I worked on a small video project with Deion Sanders who was not just one of those rare athletes who could play both professional football and professional baseball, but he’s the only athlete in the history of civilization who has played in both a World Series and in a Super Bowl.  That is he played two completely different sports at the highest level possible. If anyone earned his nickname it was Prime Time.

A few days ago in my post Simple Stories/Complex Characters (Tip #95) I quoted screenwriter Stuart Beattie saying, “I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.” But in yesterday’s post I wrote how he was one of the credited screenwriters on one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in Hollywood history—Pirates of the Caribbean. The lesson, of course, is that it’s really not an either/or question. The film world is big enough for Blanche DuBois and James Bond.

Human beings have an amazing ability to enjoy contrasting things. Off the top of my head I recall being one of about 100,000 people once at a Bruce Springsteen rock concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but also going to a small theater with a couple hundred people to hear a concert with classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. Granted, both concerts had guitars on stage, but they were two totally different experiences. And both enjoyable as I watched talented performers at the top of their fields.

Movies are no different. This year I went to see the intimate character driven Polish film Ida three times in the theater. But that doesn’t mean that the blockbusters Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark aren’t some of my favorite all-time movie going experiences.

Stuart Beattie explains the differences between writing a character driven story and a Hollywood blockbuster.

“The big blockbusters—you have to have a certain amount of spectacle, that’s why they’re blockbusters. You have to have that eye candy that people come back to see again, again and again.  So that usually means more complicated plots and just more stuff going on. Car chases, explosions, exciting moments—all that kind stuff. The plot stuff expands and the character stuff shrinks. You don’t have a lot of time to set up characters, you’ve got to get the plot rolling, things like that. Something like Collateral takes its time. In blockbusters you’re hitting [the audience] in their seats, you’ve got to provide those thrills, have them jumping all around. It’s a ride. It’s the difference between a roller coaster ride and a ride in a horse carriage around the park. It’s a different beast completely. Just as fun, just as many challenges [to write], but a completely different beast.”
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters 
interview with Mike De Luca

Joss Whedon wrote and directed the blockbuster The Avengers and then turned around and wrote the script and directed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Jon Favreau directed the blockbuster Iron Man and this year has a hit with the character driven Chef, which is closer in scope to the first indie film he wrote (Swingers). Swingers in turn was directed by Doug Liman who went on to direct The Bourne Identity.  All great examples of writers and directors at the highest level who’ve made character driven stories and blockbusters—and done it at the highest level.

But if there’s a Deion Sanders of filmmaking my vote goes to director Steven Spielberg who made Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List back to back—and that was just a couple of years after he directed The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun back to back. Spielberg is Prime Time+Oscar TimeX3.

P.S. A good example of a complex story and simple characters is Edge of Tomorrow. Maybe a little too complex. As I walked out of the theater it was interesting listening to various audience members trying to explain the film to each other (especially the ending). While the $178 million film is doing fine globally ($341 million) one of the reasons I think it was a disappointment in the States is the story—despite solid reviews and being full of spectacle (and exposition)was a little too complex to get good world of mouth advertising.

But you’ve got to give Hollywood credit for producing such an ambitious none-sequel project.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think 10 bucks to escape to a different world is worth the 10 bucks.
Stuart Beattie

“No survivors? Then where do the stories come from, I wonder?”
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)

Though I was a lover of the Walt Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean since my childhood, when I originally heard they were making a movie based on the ride my first thought was, “Well, that’s not going to be any good.”  Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ended up being nominated for five Oscars, earned over $650 million worldwide, and made the IMDB Top 250 listed tied with The Graduate, The Hustler, A Fistful of Dollars, Rope and Jurassic Park.

Empire Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters named pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as #8—just behind The Dude (Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). To date, the Pirates franchise of four films has a box office gross of  just over $3.7 billion. And as the word billion resonates in your head, you may be surprised to learn that the seeds of that franchise came from college students in Corvallis, Oregon. 

“Basically I was at Oregon State and I was hanging out with a friend and we were like, ‘Let’s write a movie.’ He’d never written a screenplay, but he liked that I was writing. I was like, ‘let’s do that–what’s a movie that hasn’t been done in a while?’ And we were thinking and thinking and suddenly we both said, ‘pirates.’ That hadn’t been done since Errol Flynn. And I end up writing this thing called Quest of the Caribbean, because I couldn’t use the actual Pirates of the Caribbean. But it had all the scenes from the [Disney] rides. The tongue in cheek Raiders of the Lost Ark version of pirates. And we sent that around town—got a lot of meetings, a lot of people interested, but it never ended up getting bought. And then years later I sold Collateral—this was in the period before it got made—and I submitted it again to Disney and  said, ‘Come on, you gotta do this.” And they said, “no, no, no—we’re actually working on our own now.” And so they had hired an in-house writer and he was doing a draft, but they wanted me to work on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So I was working on that and they were like, ‘We not happy with this draft [of Pirates] would you like a go of it?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’ve been asking for 10 fucking years, yes please!’ So I went in—pitched and got the job. I did two drafts basically. The draft that got it going and got a draft to [Jerry] Bruckheimer and Johnny [Depp], and then [screenwriters] Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio came on.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Story credit on Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, and character credit on the other Pirate films)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriting from Oregon

Related post: Movie Cloning (Pirates) Ted Elliott talks about the movie The Prisoner of Zenda  (1937) as an inspiration.

Scott W. Smith

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“You don’t know what the story is 30 pages in, you don’t know who the main character is going to be, scenes that go on too long and don’t get buttoned, the scene ends but it drags on for three lines more—or starts three lines earlier [than it should], lack of momentum, lack of pace, tone that’s all over the place—saw a lot of that kind of stuff.”
Stuart Beattie
(On common problems he saw reading screenplays when he was a script reader)

“I have like five basic rules that I try to follow:
1. No book-ends. Meaning like an old man is sitting down by a fire saying, ‘Let me tell you a story,’ and then coming back to a guy at the end. Really bugs me. I think you can always take them out and it means nothing. 
2. Rule number two is no book-ends—for emphasis.
3. You don’t kill the dog. If there’s a dog in the film you don’t kill it. 
4. Four is saving the kiss until the end. That last moment. 
5. Feel free to disagree with the above four. Because at the end of the day there are really no rules. It’s just what you feel is a good story. And take all the experiences of all the films you’ve seen, and all of your life experiences and put that in as objectively as you can. 

Pulp Fiction broke tons of rules, I love that. Just in terms of structure, and character, and time, and all that stuff. I thought The Usual Suspects broke rules. You think Keaton is going to be the main character and it’s not. Breaking rules—I’ve often thought it’d be great to write a serial killer film, a cop chasing a serial killer you’ve seen a thousand times, and have the serial killer killing the cop half way through—and who are you left with? I’m left with a serial killer the rest of the film? Well, that’ll be interesting, wouldn’t it? And seeing how that comes about. That’s breaking a mold.  The most exciting, innovative storytelling kind of stuff. Trying to be on that cutting edge. Not just for the sake of being on that cutting edge, but because it’s interesting. It’s different, You haven’t seen it before. I think audiences are craving originality. I know I am in films. Just something different that I haven’t seen before. That’s at least worth the price of admission.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Derailed, Australia)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. Hard to believe that interview has been online for almost a month and only has 51 views as I type this. It’s also hard to believe that audiences accept people getting killed all of the times in films, but killing a dog in a movie really disturbs people. You can show a character kicking a dog to show he or she is a villain, but if you shoot and kill a dog the odds are good you’ll have to edit that out or reshoot (like Beattie said they had to do in the movie Payback). I’m sure psychologist can tell us why. (And, for the record, dogs are the only animals that seem to get this immunity in Hollywood.)

“A lot of people die in Seven Psychopaths. It is brutal and it is bloody and it revels in its own excess: throats are slashed, people are burned alive, women are shot in the stomach, men get blown to pieces. CBS, which funded the film, was delighted when it read the screenplay, director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the much-loved In Bruges. Delighted, except for the bit where someone kills a dog. Hollywood doesn’t like dog-killing, and the studio suggested it would be prudent for him to remove that bit. Not a word about the women who die horribly and slowly, but a dog? You can’t kill a dog. ‘Of course,’ says McDonagh. ‘It’s rule number one.'”
Alex Godfrey, Seven Psychopaths: ‘You can’t kill dogs in Hollywood’

Of course, dogs do die in movies—sometimes gracfully in old age, and sometimes they are killed—and you could probably spend a whole day tracking down threads about it on internet. But I think the general consensus (at least in the United States) is that killing a dog in a movie hits people at such a gut level that it takes them out of the film going experience.

Related post:

“There are no rules.” (Tip #92)
There are no rules, but…(Tip #93+)
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)

 

Scott W. Smith 

 

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“I need silence. I turn off the phone. I turn off the email, and I just sink into that world and I disappear.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (I, Frankenstein)

“I have kids so I have to be disciplined. I do [my writing] from 9 to 5:30 everyday, Monday through Friday—keep those bankers’ hours. Otherwise I’d never get anything done. You have to know when to start and when to stop. Before I had a family I’d just go, go, go and just burn-out and flame-out and all that crap. So actually having those boundaries of starting and stopping is really good ’cause it lets you recharge. Play with the kids, run in the pool and recharge. And usually once they go to bed I go back to it like 8:30-9:00 and I write for another three or four hours.”
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 2) interview with Mike De Luca

And just in case you’re saying to yourself, “It must be nice to have 8 to 12 hours a day to write in silence without having to worry about a regular day job”—keep in mind that Beattie says he wrote “seven or eight scripts”—”and tons of drafts of all of those” before he sold his first one—and he was working as a waiter at the time he sold his first script.

P.S. I think the original phrase bankers’ hours was a reference to a short work day (say, 10-3), but Beattie is actually working overtime when he kicks in that extra 3-4 hours at night.

Related posts:
The Breakfast Club for Writers
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic (Part 2)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer —“I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer.”—King (I’ll add he did that while working as a high school English teacher in Hampden, Maine “making sixty-four hundred dollars a year.”)
Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I like simple stories and complex characters.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade)
Filmmaker Fills Simple Stories with Complex Folks/Roger Ebert

“I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral)

In Stuart Beattie’s screenplay for Collateral (2014) the story is simple, a hit man catches a cab at night with the goal to kill five people before he catches a morning flight out of LAX. That simplicity allowed Beattie to add some complexity to the characters played by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. (Cruise’s character is a hit man with an appreciation and knowledge of jazz music.)

“[The jazz scene] is modeled after two favorite scenes of mine, True Romance with Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper…and the Luc Besson movie La Femme Nikita when he takes her to the restaurant and you think, oh great—he’s finally taking her out. And here’s the gun, here are the people. And the whole thing changes on a dime. I love those kind of scenes and I wanted that kind of scene in Collateral.
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

It’s worth noting that there are echoes of the jazz scene in the 1993 movie Schindler’s List when Amon Goeth (known as the “Butcher of Plaszow” and played by Ralph Fiennes) who appreciated classical music yet had no problem standing on his balcony and casually shooting a couple of Jewish workers in the forced labor camp. It may not be historically accurate, but it’s great cinema in conveying that one can be educated and sophisticated musically —and still be a savage killer.

Screenwriter Steve Zillian, who won an Oscar for writing Schindler’s List, is admired by Beattie. Chances are good that Schindler’s List is in what Beattie calls his “personal reference library.”

“I have a library of probably 100 scripts that are my favorite scripts and I’m going going back and referring to them again and again. How do they do that? How’s that set-up? How’s that written?”
Stuart Beattie

When you watch the below clips in light of the above scene from Collateral keep in mind these five quotes:

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”—Painter Salvador Dalí

”Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”—Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

“How does an artist look at the world? Well, first she asks herself, ‘What’s worth stealing?’ And second, she moves on to the next thing.”—Author Austin Kleon

“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Writer/director Francis Ford Coppola

“Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Composer/ pianist Igor Stravinsky

P.S. Sometimes writers don’t sample or crib other writers, but their own work. Beattie points out that Lawrence Kasdan used two similar love scenes in both of his scripts for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Continental Divide.

Related Posts:

Inspiration Flying Under the Radar
“Steal Like An Artist”
“Impact. Energy. Emotion.” Nice quote from Mike Corrado (from a CreativeLive Rock and Roll Photography class) that describes the jazz scene in Collateral quite well.
Simplicity in Screenwriting (Tip #27) “Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”—Paul Lucey
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith

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