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Posts Tagged ‘The Karate Kid’

I think the American psychologist Maslow said if your only tool is a hammer you view every problem as a nail. And I would flip that and say that the geniuses have very limited toolsets—they have a hammer. And their genius is in looking for nails. That’s their genius, right? They have a very limited skill set but they master it and apply it incredibly well. I’m reminded of the movie The Karate Kid. Wax on wax off. Sand the floor. And then he had that crane-kicky move. And he won the California State Championship on the basis of those three. I’m goofing here on The Karate Kid, but it illustrates a profound point to master a few skills well, and then look for domains when you can apply those skills, and stay out of everything else. Warren Buffett does the same thing with his investing.
Adam Robinson @IAmAdamRobinson
Podcast Interview with Tim Ferriss;
Lessons from Warren Buffett, Bobby Fischer, and Other Outliers
(Starting at 31:09)

It’s doesn’t take much to apply that to successful screenwriters, directors, actors, editors, etc.

Related quote:
“Swing your swing. Not some idea of a swing. Not a swing you saw on TV. Not that swing you wish you had. No, swing your swing.”
Golf legend Arnold Palmer

And a little bonus hammer-themed folk music written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. The Peter, Paul and Mary version became a top #10 hit in 1962.

 

Scott W. Smith

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“I think boxing’s pretty dumb, and I’ve never been a boxing fan.”
John G. Avildsen
Oscar winning director of Rocky


AFI lists the character Rocky Balboa on their all-time movie hero list at #7 and the film Rocky as the #4 most inspiring film of all time. Writer/actor Sylvester Stallone has understandably gotten plenty of honor for the 1976 film. But the other side of Rocky is director John G. Avildsen.

Though we may never know Avildsen’s role in guiding Stallone in the re-writing process, it’s clear his vision and direction helped Rocky win three Oscar Awards; Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Picture.  Avildson’s had just released his first film just seven years before Rocky. A film shot in just seven days that he said in one interview, “It was pretty bad, but it got me my next job and my next job.” It was also a film that he not only directed, but shot and edited as well.

While digital filmmaking and non-union work has made writing, directing, and shooting more common on short films, it’s still pretty uncommon in the feature film world outside of Robert Rodriguez.  But I thought you’d find it interesting to learn where Avildsen honed his skills as a director, cameraman and editor long before he took home the Oscar Award:

“When I first started doing this I was doing industrial films for an advertising agency that did industrial shows and so forth. So I’d make this movie that ran anywhere from a few minutes to an hour for IBM or Clairol or Shell Oil to get their salesmen excited about whatever it was they were trying to get them excited about. So I was hired to direct these things and I hired myself as the cameraman and as the editor and did the things myself and it was a great learning process. It was fun to do. There was very little supervision and you could use whatever music you wanted and that’s how I started. And I figured I was a more attractive commodity to the buyer if for the same eight bucks you got three jobs instead of  one. ”
John G. Avildsen
John A. Gallagher Interview

Avildsen also directed the 1984 version of The Karate Kid in which Pat Morita was nominated for an Oscar.

P.S. In regard to that opening quote about Avildsen not being a boxing fan, it’s interesting to point out that Martin Scorsese originally told Robert De Niro that he was not interested in directing Raging Bull because he was not a fan of boxing. 

Scott W. Smith

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The only thing wrong with Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell is that it was first printed in 1991 so the film references are all old.    (At least that’s true of the version I have, and I don’t think it has been updated in the  30+ reprintings of the book.) But the tend to be modern day classics, or at least ones that are still popular today so don’t let that hinder you from tracking down a used copy on Amazon even if you weren’t born in 1991.

“Teach the audience how to do something, vicariously. Often a story will be more emotionally involving if the hero must learn some particular skill, which the audience can ‘learn’ through the character. In The Color Money, we learn the skills and philosophy of the pool circuit just as the Tom Cruise character does. Similarly, the karate training in The Karate Kid, the boxing training in Rocky, the military training in Uncommon Valor and the The Dirty Dozen, serve to involve the audience in the story.
Michael Hauge
Writing the Screenplays that Sell
page 101

I’ve watched this happen time and time again since first reading those words many years ago. A more recent example that jumps to mind (though a remake) is The Taking of Pelham 123 starring Denzel Washington (script by Brian Heleland) that gave us a fascinating tour of what goes on behind the scene in making the New York City subways run. (Not sure if that was in the John Godey novel that the movie was based on or not.) Can you think of other examples of where you’ve learned something through a movie?

Scott W. Smith

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I thought Taken was quite a good film and I wondered how the screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen worked as a pair. They come from different backgrounds. Kamen an American who is best known for writing The Karate Kid lives in New York and owns a winery in California. Besson the Frenchman who wrote The Transporter (with Kamen) grew up in places like Greece and Bulgaria because his parents were scuba instructors with Club Med.

Somewhere along the way the two met and now have worked together on several films. 

“Here’s how this works. Luc and I write scripts together. We conceptualize them together, then I write them, and then he does his Luc Besson things to them, then he goes off, and he produces them. So how Taken came about was Luc came to me and said, ‘I met this cop, and he told me this amazing story about an auction of women in a chateau outside of Paris; that they broke up this ring. I think this is amazing, so let’s make up a story.’ And then we made up the story of Taken.”
                                         Robert Mark Kamen
                                         WGA  Interview with Shira Gotsshalk

In that same interview Kamen offers this advice for those who want to be screenwriters, “Don’t read Variety. Don’t listen to gossip. Don’t live in L.A., and write. I write original screenplays every year besides the movies I get made, and I just put them away. Write what makes you excited, and if it makes you excited, and you’re any good  it will excite somebody else.”

 

Scott W. Smith
 


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