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Posts Tagged ‘The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters’

“The best thing for me was reading other scripts and then writing, writing, writing.”
Stuart Beattie on launching his screenwriting career

Since 1999 Stuart Beattie has been screenwriting for a living. But before that success he wrote a dozen screenplays “and lots and lots of drafts of that dozen” that didn’t sell. He was working as a waiter in L.A. and while working in a deli he pitched his script of Collateral to Frank Darabont’s fiancé—who was a friend he knew at UCLA.

Collateral was a story that began as an idea just after Beattie graduated from high school in Australia. The sale of Collateral would launch his career. One that had roots back when he was in 3rd and 4th grade and writing 50-100 pages stories. Beattie also earned a journalism degree in Sydney before moving to L.A. to live.

“[Being from Australia] gave me an outsider perspective on everything—gave me a different look at things. And then once people met me it might helped stay in their minds a bit ’cause I had a funny accent. I had other stories than growing up in L.A.”
Stuart Beattie

And after coming to the United States he took classes from working professionals at the UCLA Extension program where Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and David Koepp (Jurassic Park) were guest speakers he heard. It was there that he won a screenwriting award which led to him getting an agent.

“I like outlines a lot. I usually actually try and do a five-page outline. Act one is one page. Act two is [pages] two, three, four. And act three is page five. ‘Cause I know if I can boil it down to that essence then I’ve got  ‘what is the story?.’ I don’t like to do the 40 page outline because I think that takes away some of the creativity in the moment of writing the script.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral, I, Frankenstein)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. When Beattie was waiting tables at that deli in L.A. Darabont’s fiancé was technically not one of the tables he was waiting on, and he was a little embarrassed to talk to her since he was in fact waiting tables. As Christopher Lockhart says, “Take the shot when you think you’ve got that moment.” So many things had to fall in place for Collateral (2004) to get made that the odds are good that if Beattie doesn’t take that shot, Michael Mann never directs Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx from a screenplay that Beattie wrote.

Related post:
Getting Your Script Read (Tip #51)
Who to Blame for Your Failures 
Paul Haggis echoes Beattie’s words about what it takes to become a working screenwriter, “In order to get any good at it you have to write and write and write. It took me a long time to get any good.”
The Outsider Advantage

Scott W. Smith

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“I think all stories are emotionally based. From comedies to action adventures. If you don’t have the emotional center of a piece then you lose everything else.”
Writer/director Paul Haggis

“In L.A. nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something.”
Det. Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) in Crash

“I was carjacked in 1991 and we writers don’t react like human beings, rather than rage or anger I became curious about who these kids were that stuck guns in my face. It took a long time, every year I’d ask myself questions about them because they were never caught. I just wondered who they were. Were they best friends? Had they just met each other that night? What was their worldview? I didn’t know. I never  intended to write about them, but about ten years later I woke up in the middle of the night…and I just kept following the characters. So 10 o’clock in the morning I had this entire 30 page outline done. I thought it was a TV series at first and tried to pitch it and no one wanted to buy it. And a year later after writing Million Dollar Baby on spec I was still unemployed, so I called my friend Bobby Moresco and I said, ‘I’ve got these pages and I think it’s a movie,’ and he said,’no it’s not.’ I said, ‘I think it is.’ He said, ‘we can make it into one,’ and two weeks later we had a first draft.”
Writer/ Director Paul Haggis
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Haggis and Moresco won an Oscar for their Crash (2004) screenplay and the film won the Oscar for Best Film of the Year. And Haggis’ gut was right in the  Crash (2008-2009) was developed by creator Glen Mazzara into a TV series in 2008 starring Dennis Hopper.

Related Posts:

Emotional Archaeology
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Goal: Elicit Emotion (Tip #77)
Four Emotional Needs
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Usually the characters are where I start [the writing process] and then I continually ask myself, ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character?’ I love finding the worst things happening at the best moments of a person’s life.”
Paul Haggis

“Trust is the most important thing in any relationship. Never lie to an actor. Often as directors we are asked to lie, because the producer says, ‘you can only shoot for 10 more minutes,’ because of this reason or that. And you want to keep the actor on your side. You don’t want to tell them you can only shoot for 10 more minutes because it’s a budgetary thing. And so you say, ‘no, no it’s this reason’—and it comes back and bites you in the ass each time. You got to go up and say, ‘I’m really sorry, we just took seven hours shooting the other side on her coverage, and now we have to turn around and do yours in 10. That’s what we got.’ And then the actor can deal with that and go, ‘OK.’ So trust is incredibly important. The great thing about hiring really skilled actors is they can take it to a level that you never imagined. And if they trust themselves they’ll discover things in those moments that they didn’t know was going to happen and you didn’t know. And you just hope the camera’s in focus.”
Two-time Oscar-winning producer/director/writer Paul Haggis (Crash)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Here’s the trailer from Crash (2004) which is full of horrible things happening. BTW–Horrible things=conflict. Followed by a well written, acted and directed scene from Crash.

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Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)
Conflict: What? vs. How?
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Protagonist = Struggle

Scott W. Smith

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“I think it’s good for a writer to always be an outsider of some sort.”
Canadian-born screenwriter Paul Haggis

“When I’ve spoken at colleges and schools and—after you give the long spiel about writing from the heart, and all that stuff—the writers always ask, ‘What are people looking for?’ And I say, ‘Stop, stop thinking that right now.’ The really great producers don’t look for that anyway. They’re looking for an individual voice. They’re looking for a story that moves them.  And if you start thinking, ‘What do they want?’ and write that, then you’re never going to reach down to that great place.”
Two-time Oscar-winning producer/director/writer Paul Haggis (Crash)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Note: Haggis co-wrote both Crash and Million Dollar Baby on spec. The end result was a total 13 Oscar nominations, and seven wins for those movies.

P.S. Screenwriting Summer School homework: Take all advice with a grain of salt. Plenty of people  started their careers with Roger Corman by asking what he wanted. Keep in mind that the above quote is from an Oscar-winning screenwriter. But when Haggis was starting out in his career he wrote for The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show and The Love Boat. And despite Billy Ray’s quote (Screenwriting Litmus Test) “Never ever write a movie that you yourself wouldn’t pay to see”—I’m not 100% sure Oscar-nominated writer/directed John Sayles wanted to see Piranha (1978) or Alligator (1980), scripts he worked on early in his career. But as far a spec scripts, I say absolutely write something from the heart that you would want to see (and hopefully one a few other people would also like to see ).

Related posts:

The Outsider Advantage
Finding Your Voice Frank Darabont quote
Finding Your Own Voice Henry Miller quote
The ‘Piranha’ Highway “It’s funny the things you would do when you’re starting out in your career that you probably wouldn’t do the same later.”—Director Joe Dante (Piranha)
Coppola & Roger Corman
Filmmaking Quote #7 (James Cameron) The Canadian-born writer/director who stands at the top of the Hollywood box office.

Scott W. Smith

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