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Posts Tagged ‘The Starter Screenplay’

We can learn a lot by setting two things alongside one another. It’s even better if we have a reason to do so.”
David Bordwell

“Can we really discuss 13 Going on 30 without mentioning Big?
Adam Levenberg

Big (1988): When a boy wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body literally overnight.

13 Going on 30 (2004): A 13 year old girl plays a game on her 13th birthday and wakes up the next day as a 30 year old woman.

There are many words and phrases to explain why some films appear to be very similar to other films: Remake, update, homage, rip-off, mash-up, inspired by, parallels, movie mapping, story patterns, story echo, influences, and good old-fashioned plagiarism.

Sea of Love= Basic Instinct
A Stranger Among Us= Witness
Double Indemnity=Body Heat
Indecent Proposal=Honeymoon in Vegas
Clueless=Emma
Westworld=Jurassic Park
A Christmas Carol= Scrooged
Cyrano de Bergerc=Roxanne
Hardcore=The Searchers
First Blood= The Sheepman
Yojimbo=A Fistful of Dollars
Dreamscape=Inception
Doc Hollywood=Cars
City on Fire= Reservoir Dogs
(This one even gets a video Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?)

Fatal Attraction=Unfaithful

“We could hold a Fatal Attraction film festival, screening the teen version Swimfan, the African American comedy version The Thin Line Between Love and Hate, the parody superhero hybrid My Super Ex-Girlfriend, the recent hit Obsessed.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

Of course, before Fatal Attraction there was Play Misty for Me. The 1971 film was the directorial debut of  Clint Eastwood, who would later say that the film was “The original Fatal Attraction.” Play Misty for Me was written by Jo Heims and Dean Riesner. Even if you haven’t seen that film, see if the IMDB description doesn’t sound familiar:

“A brief fling between a male disc jockey and an obsessed female fan takes a frightening, and perhaps even deadly turn when another woman enters the picture.”

There is a long standing debate on just how much the work of Christopher Marlowe shaped the works of William Shakespeare. But the cycle never really stops as Shakespeare has been accused of stealing from the Roman writer Plautus and Plautus adapted many a Greek playwright.

There are plenty of books and articles as critics discuss the similarities of such and such a film. Tomorrow well look at what some filmmakers and screenwriters have to say about the topic.

Scott W. Smith



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“There’s no such thing as a totally new concept, just reworking old ones to make them current and fresh.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

We’ll start the new year by looking at an old trend in the movie business—Similiarities between films.

It’s not hard to look at Roger Corman’s Piranha (1978) and see how it was influenced by JAWS (1975). But it’s also not hard to see how JAWS was influenced by the classic 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon. I’d like to think that a then eight year old Steven Spielberg saw Creature from the Black Lagoon when it first came out and thought, “Gee, when I grow up I think it would be fun to work at Universal Studios.”

—The creature and the shark both kill people
—The creature and the shark strand a boat that threatens all aboard
—Both stories have an element of greed on the part of the humans
—Both have quirky boat captains
—Both have scientists
—Similar music to announce impending danger of creature/shark (Da-Dum)
—Both are Universal Pictures
—The creature and the shark are killed at the end

I’m sure there are a few other similarities. Just as there are similarities between Creature and King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). Of course Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein was published in 1818. And if we went back in time we have tales of creatures by the Greeks and Romans, and even in the Garden of Eden we have the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve.

To use Blake Snyder’s phrase, “monster in the house” stories have been with us a long time. (Even if the house is technically a lagoon or a small beach town.) Overall I think we put too much emphasis on the similarities of film instead of their differences. Earlier this week I watched Creature from the Black Lagoon and JAWS and found they each stand on their own.

I once had a teacher say that if you gave ten writers the basic concept of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and had them write a script you would have ten original stories. Heck, Scorsese has made a career out of lifting chunks of 1930s gangster films and giving them his own imprint.

So don’t be discouraged when people read your script and say, “Oh, it’s just like….” They’re just seeing patterns that are in every film. Last week I saw The Black Swan and I thought, “Oh, it’s The Wrestler meets The Fight Club.” Then I saw Mark Walhberg in The Fighter and even though it’s based on a true story, I still thought, “It’s part Rocky (1976) and part Fat City (1972).” Your originality will come from your own unique background.

And speaking of  Creature from the Black Lagoon, I saw where screenwriter Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) is remaking the film. Turns out that Ross’ father, Arthur A. Ross, was one of the screenwriters on the original film. The elder Ross was nominated for an Oscar for the 1980 film Brubaker which was just eight years before Gary received his first Oscar nomination for Big—shared with co-writer Anne Spielberg, who happens to be Steven’s sister. (One big happy family, right?)

And lastly, I can’t help but point out that the actress (Julie Adams) who the creature from the Black Lagoon was attracted to, in real life was born in Waterloo, Iowa. (Just a few miles from where I type this post in Cedar Falls, Iowa.)



P.S. If you’re a filmmaker near the Florida panhandle, the exterior shots for Creature from the Black Lagoon were shot in Wakulla Springs State Park. I’m not sure what the requirements are to shoot there, but it’s as untouched today as it was when then filmed Creature. Crystal clear water and beautiful natural light.

© 2011 Scott W. Smith


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