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Posts Tagged ‘The Firm’

“If you can’t pitch an idea — if you’ve got an idea for a story, whether it’s a book, a TV show or a movie, if you can’t pitch it in like 30 seconds and hook somebody and make them believe in it, you’re probably in trouble…Many, many years ago, I had just finished A Time to Kill, and [my wife] Renee was in the kitchen cooking. And I said, hey, I’ve got an idea for you. Listen to me. Give me your attention. I said, okay, here’s the deal. A young associate finishes law school. He goes to work or a law firm set in Memphis, of all places, not one of your big, powerful Washington or New York firms. And he joins a firm that’s secretly owned by the Mafia. And once you join the firm, you can never leave. That was my spiel, just like that. I made that pitch. And Renee just stopped and she said, wait a minute. Do that again. And I did it again. And she said, that’s a big book. And that was The Firm. So that’s the way I get the ideas going.”
John Grisham
Interview on The Diane Rehm Show

The Firm became a best-selling book and then a film starring Tom Cruise based on a script by David Rabe, Robert Towne & David Rayfiel.

This is what Grisham told Rehm about having your novel turned into a movie by others:

“When you deal with Hollywood, you have to be realistic. It’s going to be something different. It is very difficult to adapt a 400 or 500-page novel into a screenplay that’s 120 pages and a two-hour film. And it can be done, it’s done all the time, but it’s not always that easy. Something is always going to be left out, something’s going to be changed, and you have to know that up front. It’s going to be something different. I don’t get too close to it. I keep my distance. I don’t go to the set and hang out. I go and meet everybody one time and then go home and wait for the movie to come out.”

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
John Grisham’s Writing Routine
John Grisham’s Outlining Process
Bad Ideas & Writing Poorly
Is It a Movie?

Scott W. Smith

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Finding time to write is one of the biggest struggles for those writers with jobs and a family. But there are many stories of writers like John Grisham (The Firm) and Ron Bass (Rain Man) waking up at 5 A.M. to write before their day jobs. Now I’ve discovered another that is in that club:

“I began training for the writing life in 1951, getting up at 5:00 A.M. and writing for two hours before going to work at an ad agency. My one rule; I had to start writing, get into a scene, before I could put on coffee. Two pages a day in the early hours allowed me to turn out five books, all westerns, and over 30 short stories in the next ten years.”
                                  Elmore Leonard
                                  (Three-Ten to Yuma, Get Shorty
                                  AARP The Magazine
                                  page 29

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“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
                                  Clint Eastwood (as Harry Callahan in Magnum Force)

 

John Grisham didn’t get to see his dream come true. His childhood dream was to play professional baseball and he made it all the way to playing junior college ball before he realized his limitations. So at 20 years old he shifted his focus to school and becoming a lawyer.

Once he graduated from law school at Old Miss he saw his new dream come true and then he got an itch to write. While he didn’t have instant success with his writings, according to CNN, he sold 60 million books in the 90s alone.  His books translated to film well and attracted a talented group of actors over the years including Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Susan Saradon, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, John Cusack, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.

From a box office standpoint Grisham had a dream year in 1993 when two films made from his books (A Time to Kill & The Firm) both made over $100 million. Not bad for an old jock from Mississippi.

“The writing has come fairly late in life. I never dreamed of being a writer when I was a kid, even a student, even in college. In fact. I’d been practicing law for about three or four years in the early ’80s, when I decided to make a stab at writing a story that I’d been thinking about. And the story eventually became A Time to Kill.

It took three years to write, and I was very disciplined about doing it. It was very much a hobby. By the time I finished it, I had developed a routine of writing every day. When I finished it, I went to the next book, which was The Firm. Once that was written, everything started changing. I wouldn’t use the word ‘accident,’ but it certainly wasn’t planned. I never dream it….

A Time to Kill and The Firm, those books were written over a five-year period, back-to-back, from about 1984 to about 1989. The bulk was written at five o’clock in the morning, from five ’til seven in the morning. I’d get up and go to the office that early. And again, it wasn’t any fun, but it was a habit. It got to be part of the daily routine. And I remember several times being in court at nine o’clock in the morning, really tired, because writing takes a lot out of you. It’s draining.”
                                                           John Grisham 
                                                           Academy of Achievement website

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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Indiana’s been in the news the last couple weeks. First there’s the new Indiana Jones film that’s on top at the box office, there was the Indy 500 this past weekend, and then I saw the front page of New York Times yesterday morning and learned that director and Indiana native Sydney Pollack died Monday.

It seems like a fitting time to take a road trip to the Hoosier State. Though Pollack was not a screenwriter it’s worth paying tribute to this giant of a filmmaker who knew how to tell a story.

Before he headed to New York after high school in South Bend to study acting with Sanford Meisner he had spent his life in Indiana.  From acting in theater, to directing TV shows, to directing over 40 feature films Pollack was unusually gifted. I was a long time fan of Pollack’s and he directed some of my favorite films:

They Don’t Shoot Horses, Do They? The Way We Were Jeremiah Johnson Three Days of the Condor The Electric Horseman Absence of Malice Tootsie Out of Africa The Firm Sketches of Frank Gehry 

He was a two time Oscar winner (Out of Africa & Tootsie) both of which films also won Best Picture Oscars.  Another Indiana native producer/director Robert Wise also had won two best director Oscars for his films West Side Story & The Sound of Music. He also won two more Best Picture Oscars for producing both movies.

And to challenge Nebraska’s cool actor category (which produced both Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando), Indiana lays claim to Steve McQueen and James Dean. The list of entertainment icons from Indiana also includes Karl Malden (On the Waterfront), comedian Red Skelton, song writer Cole Porter, and TV host David Letterman.

Moving to the writing side, Kurt Vonnegut was born and raised in Indianapolis. Glenn Berggoetz writes, “It was at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis that Vonnegut gained his first writing experience. During his last two years there he wrote for and was one of the editors of the Shortridge Daily Echo, which was the first high school daily newspaper in the country. At this young age Vonnegut learned to write for a wide audience that would give him immediate feedback, rather than just writing for an audience of one in the form of a teacher.” (Note also that Vonnegut also honed his skills at the Iowa Writers Workshop.) 

Theodore Dreiser from Terre Haute wrote the novel An American Tragedy that was made twice made into a film including the 1951 George Stevens’ version (A Place in the Sun) staring Elizabeth Taylor that won 6 Academy Awards. It is a film that Mike Nichols (director of The Graduate) said if you wanted to learn how to direct you should watch 50 times.

To counter Dreiser’s somber look at the dark side of America let’s look at another film with Indiana roots. Playwright and screenwriter Steve Tesich was born in Yugoslavia, raised in Chicago and graduated from Indiana University. He won an Oscar for his screenplay Breaking Away based and filmed in Bloomington, Indiana and that became the 1979 sleeper hit staring Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Chrisopher Plummer and James Earle Haley.

Tesich’s script came at a time before we were jaded by sports stories and was released just three years after Rocky. The film captures much of what I’m trying to write about in Screenwriting from Iowa. That is that there are stories to tell beyond Hollywood, and people all over the world need encouragement to tell those stories.

Frank Deford reviewed Breaking Away for Sports Illustrated in 1979:

“It is the rare film that has understood the essence of sport so well as Breaking Away; or understood summer or growing up; or, for that matter, America and Americana. This joyous story about four young A&P cowboys and a bicycle race in Bloomington, Ind. cost a measly $2.4 million to make but it is better by far than all the ballyhooed, star-studded epics. Steve Teisch’s screenplay is impeccable; Peter Yates’ direction is nearly magic in its command and sensitivity; and the cast is perfectly chosen, an ensemble always in character. And if all this were not enough, Breaking Away also evokes a spirit these times yearn for.

“I’m sure that Teisch and Yates didn’t set out to wave the flag, but there is something special here… the wonderful thing about Breaking Away is that you leave the theater very proud that America has both an Indiana and a Hollywood.”

TV and film director David Anspaugh was born in Decatur, Indiana and also studied at Indiana University before going on to win two Emmy’s producing and directing Hill Street Blues and the quintessential Indiana film Hoosiers.

Matt Williams from Evansville, Indiana is best known as the creator and executive producer of Roseanne and co-creator of Home Improvement. But he also wrote for The Cosby Show and produced the Mel Gibson film What Women Want. He graduated with a theater degree from the University of Evansville and was awarded an honorary doctorate from there in 2003.

And the newest up and coming writer/ director from Indiana is James C. Strouse (from Goshen, Indiana) whose latest film Grace is Gone won the critics awards at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. His first film Lonesome Jim starred Casey Affleck and was directed by Steve Busemi. 

But I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention John Mellencamp from Seymour, Indiana who seems to embody a Midwestern spirit in everything he does. Going way back into the early 80’s with prefect sing-a-long songs Jack & Diana (“Two American kids growing up in the Heartland”), Pink Houses and Small Town to his classic thought-provoking album Scarecrow that addressed the farm crisis in the 80’s, to his more recent Our Country. Mellencamp embraced his Midwestern roots and we were better for it.

While his film connections are usually on the soundtracks of films he did star and direct the 1992 film Falling from Grace. Mellencamp was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Indiana University awarded him an honorary doctorate of Musical Arts.

On Sunday I spent a several hours driving on the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinenental highway in the country. (It goes through both Iowa and Indiana. And paid my first ever $4.+ per gallon for gas.) It’s hard for me to make that kind of trip and not think of Mellencamp’s lyrics, “Ain’t that America Something to See.”

It’s something to write about, too.

P.S. Did you know that in the original Indy script that it was Indiana Smith? Doesn’t have the same ring does it?  (Spielberg thought it sounded to much like Nevada Smith, a 1966 Steve McQueen film.) And isn’t it hard to see Tom Selleck as Indy, who Spielberg originally wanted but couldn’t get because of Selleck’s commitment to Magnum P.I.?

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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