Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter’

“The thing to do is just keep writing. Show it to your girlfriend, boyfriend, or your wife, or whomever, and see if they like it. Then show it to your friends and see if they like it. You keep accumulating these little victories along the way. Pretty soon you’re showing it to an agent, and your agents showing it to a producer, and a producer’s showing it to a director, the director’s showing it to an audience, and it’s just an escalation of these little victories that you have to go through to get to where you’re a successful writer. It’s not a fun process. It’s like homework. I don’t think you can really leapfrog from writing a screenplay to the big premiere with the klieg lights, which I think is the image that ever writer has.”
Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
The New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter by William Froug
page 179

Related post:
Finding Your Voice “For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” —
Writer/director Frank Darabont

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“The only validation you have as a writer is to yourself, that you’ve written something good that you really cared about, that you can look at and read it and say, “This is my script. This is what I really wanted to say.” If your friends like it, then you’re really pleased. What your dream is that an audience gets a chance to see your vision. I mean, that’s why you write movies. But you have to move to grips with the reality that the chances of having a movie made are so slim. That it’s so, so difficult.”
Laurence Dworet, MD
Screenwriter, Outbreak
As quoted in The New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter
by William Froug


Read Full Post »

“Theme is the primary statement, the purpose of the story, the overall message, the truth behind the story.”
Writing the Picture
Robin U. Rissin & William Missouri Downs

I first became aware of Diane Frolov‘s writing back in the 90s when I saw her name come up on the credits for Northern Exposure. She and her writing partner and husband Andrew Schneider wrote and produced many episodes of the quirky show set in Cicely, Alaska. They won a Primetime Emmy for their episode “Seoul Mates.” (They also wrote the great “More Light” scene that I have mentioned before.)

But Frolov’s writing credits go back to Magnum P.I. and the TV program The Incredible Hulk. And in the days since Northern Exposure Frolov’s most memorable work has been as a writer and producer on The Sopranos. She was on the Sopranos team that won an Emmy in 2006 for Outstanding Drama Series.

Though I don’t watch much TV, I’ve always been a Northern Exposure fan and put it up there with The Twilight Zone as television at its best. And I’ve always thought part of the reason I ended up in Cedar Falls, Iowa was due in part for the fondness of quirky Cicely, Alaska. (And I’m fond of pointing out that John Falsey, co-creator of Northern Exposure, has an MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.)

Twenty years ago Frolov was interviewed by William Froug, who she studied with at UCLA (MFA Playwriting), and was asked what was the most important thing to know before writing a screenplay;

“I would say theme. You really need to know what the piece is ‘about’ and you have to make sure that all plot turns and character arc elucidate and project that theme.”
Diane Frolov

Recently, Brian McDonald who wrote the book Invisible Ink and has a blog of the same name, sent me a link to The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling who wrote in a letter  basically the same thing as Frolov.

“In my case, first I think of a theme and then chose a story line or a plot to go with it. Once this is chosen, the characters fall into place.”
Rod Serling letter to Dave Pitt

Maybe that explains the connection to Northern Exposure and The Twilight Zone.

Now writers are not in agreement with the idea of starting from theme. Some goes as far as saying that the writer should never even be aware of the story’s theme. Many, like  Robert McKee, say that starting with theme before story puts the cart before the horse.

“The Story tells you its meaning, you do not dictate meaning to the story.”
Robert McKee
Story

The fear of starting with theme (or a controlling idea or moral premise as some call it) is that you fall into didacticism or a sermon. And there are plenty of examples where heavy handed themes weigh down stories. But perhaps that’s a matter of the talent and skill of the writer.

Just because a baseball pitcher has an ineffective fast ball or curve ball doesn’t mean fast balls or curve balls are bad. No those are the staple of every baseball pitcher. He will be judged (and his ERA will reflect) the skill in which he uses his fastball and curveball.

And in the case of Frolov and Serling their work has shown that starting from theme can be very effective. (And you can put Charles Dickens in the camp of starting with theme.)

Lastly, Froug ended his interview with Frolov by asking here is she had any thoughts that she’d like to express. (And keep in mind that her answer is before all her Emmy nominations and wins.)

“To have courage and really love what you do. But not to lose sight of the life around you. You’ll find, as you go through the (writing) process, there will be so many people who will tell you that it is impossible and that you can’t do it. You’ll have your heart-broken so many times, and you just have to sustain yourself with your vision. And, as I said, your love of what you do.”
Diane Frolov
The New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter
Page 273

P.S. Even though the last new episode of Northern Exposure aired in 1995, there is still a group of people who gather yearly for Moosefeast, a Northern Exposure Fan Festival that takes place in Roslyn, Washington where the series was filmed. I also like to point out, that the final song of the final episode was written and performed by Iris DeMent who now lives in Iowa. Actually, in the same town where Northern Exposure co-creator, John Falsey, went to college. (Maybe there is more of a connection to Northern Exposure and The Twilight Zone than I thought.)

Related post: Writing from Theme (Tip #20)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Although I have only a small driblet of fame and fortune, it’s enough. My life has gone very well in all spheres except for my physical health.”
Dan O’Bannon

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon died earlier this month after a 30 battle with Crohn’s disease. He’ll be most remembered in film history for writing Alien.

O’Bannon was born in St. Louis and stated that his early creative influences were comic books, monster movies of the 1950s, and H.P. Lovecraft novels. He would go to Washington University in St. Louis and MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, before going on to USC where he earned an MFA.

William Froug, in his book The New Screenwriter Looks at The New Screenwriter, had this to say about O’Bannon, “Looking back over twenty years of teaching at both USC and UCLA, I single out Dan O’Bannon as the most original, unique student I encountered. Dan was a quiet, modest young man, quite a bit undernourished, gentle, and soft-spoken. Dan was also something of a loner. It was clear he had his own vision, and it was the vision of an iconoclast. I was fond of him from the first time we met in one of my non-writing classes.”

O’Bannon met director John Carpenter in film school at USC and they made a student film together called Dark Star that they later expanded into their first feature film. After Alien O’Bannon went on to make several other films including The Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall, and Blue Thunder.

In an interview that he did with Froug I’ve pieced together what O’Bannon said was his way of working;

“I’m a structuralist myself. We believe in discipline, hard work, and architecture. Writing a script is like carpentry…In my early days of writing, I was afraid that working it all out in advance would destroy the creative impulse. Now I don’t even start seriously writing until it’s all worked out on paper…I keep retyping from the beginning. I list all my scenes. Then I rearrange them into three acts. I just keep working on it until I run dry of stuff that should go into an outline, and then I start on the script. I don’t start writing the script until it’s completely working in an outline. Until all the pieces are there…So the first big thrust is to get the structure first and then the script goes fairly quickly.”

O’Bannon was part of solid list of writers & filmmakers from Missouri. (See post Screenwriting from Missouri.)

There is a Dan O’Bannon website that is up and running as well as being in the process of being further developed and is sure to be a wealth of info on his writings.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Screenwriter Anna Hamilton Phelan came on scene in 1985 when she wrote Mask which starred Cher and Eric Stoltz. The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and earned Phelan a WGA nomination. It’s an excellent film and one I’m surprised is not mentioned more these days. Phelan followed that up with Gorillas in the Mist; The Story of Dian Fossey for which she earned an Academy Award nomination.

“Fascinating stories are happening right next door to you. You don’t need to write about someone famous, or you don’t need to write, you know, John Rambo. Right down the street there’s that old woman who lives in that house and nobody ever sees her. She’s back in there. I would just love to know what’s going on, or what happened in the past, or….”
                                          Anna Hamilton Phelan
                                          The New Screenwriter Looks at the New Screenwriter
                                          by William Froug
                                          page 32

 

In trying to find out more about Phelan I discovered the whole Froug interview with her is online at Scott Myers’ blog Go Into the Story. 

 

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: