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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hanks’

“What Sandy [Alexander] Mackendrick did for myself and my classmates was he was the first cold water we were hit with and he prepared us how to face the business.”
CalArts film student

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling.”
Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E)
(And CalArts Grad)

“One of the tasks of the director as he transfers a screenplay to the medium of the moving-image-with-sound is almost to forget what the characters are saying and reimagine their behavior as being mute, so that all thoughts, feelings and impulses are conveyed to the audience through sound and vision—without speech. There is a curious paradox here, for when a scene has been reconstituted in this fashion the director is often able to reincorporate elements of the original dialogue in ways that make it vastly more effective. Moreover, when a script has been conceived in genuinely cinematic terms, its sparse dialogue is likely to be free of the task of exposition and will consequently be much more expressive.”
Alexander Mackendrick
On Film-making
page 6

A great example of feelings and emotions conveyed without dialogue is in Cast Away (2000) written by William Broyles Jr. and directed by Robert Zemeckis. At a big holiday family dinner, Chuck (Tom Hanks) looks down at his pager and then glances across the table at his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) and her expression says it all, like—”You’re not going out of town on Christmas?”

It’s a quick moment and a simple one, but one that is so core to the story. Of course, Hanks is later cast away on an island following a plane crash, but there’s a sense that he is casting away the relationship with his girlfriend for his job commitments. The moment is captured in six quick shots without a single spoken word. I couldn’t find the scene online, but it’s a great example of what Mackendrick said about conveying “thoughts, feelings and impulses” without dialogue.

Related posts:
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)  “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
“Storytelling without Dialogue” (Tip #82) 

Scott W. Smith

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Over the weekend I saw Saving Mr. Banks and enjoyed it immensely. And there is a line in the film—that I don’t think is a spoiler—that seems to be what the film was about.

“In every movie house, all over the world, in the eyes and the hearts of my kids, and other kids and their mothers and fathers for generations to come, George Banks will be honored. George Banks will be redeemed. George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in Saving Mr. Banks

That sounds like a pretty strong theme. And I’m fascinated by the topic of theme because I’ve read successful screenwriters and directors say these contradictory things:

A) I never think in terms of theme
B) I usually start with theme
C) The theme reveals itself somewhere in the writing
D) Theme is something the audience sees when the film hits the theaters
E) I avoid writing from theme to avoid the story being message driven
F) I have no clue what the word theme means

So one thing we can learn from Rod Serling, Alexander Payne, Francis Ford Coppola, and others is the process of screenwriting varies from writer to writer.  Which is why you have visually strong writers and dialogue driven writers.

Now I don’t think that Disney line is a direct quote from the Mickey Mouse creator, but from the imagination of the Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel.  I don’t know at what point she wrote Disney’s monologue—or if she even thinks that was the theme of the movie—but I do know she in facts does think in terms of theme.

“I’m personally a big fan of knowing what your theme is before starting. I think they can arise as you tell the story, but writing within and for a theme seems to me to help the process along. It allows for much more intricate storytelling, ways of speaking to the theme and letting your theme to speak to you, even unconsciously. I said ‘theme’ four times in that last paragraph. I shouldn’t be allowed to be a writer.”
Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey)
Go Into the Story Interview with Scott Myers

Related Posts (and a ping pong of views on theme):

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Diablo Cody on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Wes Anderson on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
William Froug on Theme
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Diane Frolov & The Theme Zone
Theme vs. Story
“Network” Notes by Paddy Chayefsky
Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”
Serling vs. Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“Every villain is the hero of his own story.”
Actor Tom Hiddleston

“This was my first time acting, or even thinking about acting.”
Actor Barkhad Abdi (Lead freighter hijacker in Captain Phillips)
NPR Interview, October 20, 2013

The thing that surprised me most when I first visited Minnesota more than 15 years ago was how many Somalians lived there. (Today there are more Somalians living in the Twin Cities than any other place in the United States.) So it’s no surprise that Hollywood went to Minneapolis when it was looking for Somalians to cast in the movie Captain Phillips.

Barkhad Abdi was one of more than 700 people who showed up for an open audition in Minneapolis and I bet he was surprised when he walked away with the lead Somalian hijacker role (Muse) acting opposite two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips). And maybe even more suprised when he recieved a SAG nomination yesterday. Not a bad first acting gig.

“I hope people understand the culture clash between these very, very different characters, Capt. Phillips and Muse. One had just, the normal life, you know, he went to school, college, graduated, family, and now he [has] a job. And the other one is just someone that grew up in a war-torn country, that had no hope, no school, no job, no government, nothing…A ruthless man who has nothing to lose. A man who has nothing to lose is dangerous. So, that’s how I became his character.”
Barkhad Abdi
NPR Interview

I remember seeing the trailer for Captain Phillips (“Look at me. I’m the captain now.”) thinking of Abdi “that dude looks real.” Film is about illusion so it’s no surprise that he had no acting experience. That’s not uncharted territory. Remember last year when Quvenzhane Wallis received an Oscar-nomination for her first role in Beasts of the Southern Wild? There’s also the trained Cambodian physician Haing S. Ngor who came to the U.S. with no formal acting experience and won an Oscar in his first film, The Killing Fields. (Bruce Robinson also recieved an Oscar-nomination for his script of that 1984 film.)

But good filmmaking is also about experienced, skilled people working together—and the Captain Phillips cast and crew had that in abundance. They were led by documentary trained director Paul Greengrass known for his work directing The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and United 93 (for which he received an Oscar nomination).

And there was screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) to bring his more than 20 years of experience writing the script based on the book A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.

“From the beginning we were very determined that we didn’t want cardboard bad guys. That’s just not good writing. You always want to dimentionalize your characters whenever possible, whether they’re good guys or bad guys. You always want them to look like full, actualized human beings. Not so much that audiences can sympathize, but so that audiences can understand and maybe recognize a piece of human behavior in those characters and that was very important to me.”
Billy Ray
Interview with Captain Phillips screenplay writer Billy Ray at NYFF premiere

P.S. A clip that always come to mind of an evil character is from Schindler’s List. (And an example of no dialogue needed.)

Update 12/16/13:

From a Facebook thread on The Inside Pitch here’s a list (off the top of his head) of good bad guys by WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart:
Rob Roy/ Archibald Cunningham  (Tim Roth)
In the Line of Fire/Mitch Leary (John Malkovich
Working Girl/Kathrine Parker(Sigourney Weaver)
Bravehart/ Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan)
RoboCop (1987)/ Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith)
Schindler’s List/ Amon Goeth (Ralph Finnes)
The Wizard of Oz/ Miss Gulch/The Wicker Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)
Kiss of Death (1947)/ Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark)
White Heat/ Cody Jarrett  (James Cagney)
Training Day/ Det. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington)
Also noting that Gary Oldman (JFK, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, True Romance, Murder in the First) , Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, The Iceman, Man of Steel) and Kevin Spacey (Se7en) “all play good bad guys when they play them.”

And I found this video on evil characters as well:

P.S. Can anybody  recommend a Solmalian-made film that can give those outside Africa a different view of the country and its people? I did find a Wikipedia link to the Cinema of Somalia—but I’d love to learn about screenwriting from Somalia and the country’s filmmakers.

Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart) “You just have to ask yourself, “Okay I’ve seen this a million times, so what can I do to make it a little different?” (I think Captain Phillips fits the “unique, but familiar” mold.)
“To Live or Die?” “The best drama for me is one which shows a man in danger. There is no action when there is no danger. To live or die? What drama is greater?”—Howard Hawks / “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”—Stanley Elkin
Don’t Bore the Audience! Can Tennesee Williams and UCLA’s Richard Walter both be wrong?
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6) “Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?”—Paddy Chayefsky
Writing “Black Hawk Down” Another Somalia-based story

Related links:
The Screenwriter’s Guide To Movie Villains Screenwriting Spark as gather more than 40 links related to movie villains
BBC News Somalia Profile
AFI’s 100 Heroes & Villains (
And in this racially sensitive culture we still live in I feel the need to point out that the top villains are all white—except for Bruce the shark in JAWS and the Alien in Alien—and the first film black villain on AFI’s list is #50 Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in Training Day. (Okay, #3 villain Darth Vader did have James Earl Jones’ voice—but Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, the Wicked Witch of the West and the rest of the AFI list are all crazy white people. So please hold off on the emails.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“When does anyone get to go to Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?”
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney
Saving Mr. Banks

Since I’ve been in a Disney state of mind this week touching on the film Saving Mr. Banks that will be released later this year makes sense. I’m sure the title will stick in time, but I had to Google “Tom Hanks as Walk Disney” to find it. It’s the story Walt Disney attempting to convince author P.L. Travers to make a film from her novel of Mary Poppins. (I’ve read it took 23 years for Travers to give Disney the rights to the book.)

Credited on writing the Saving Mr. Banks script are Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Here’s an interview with Marcel I found over at Scriptshadow.

SS: I discussed in my review of the script that the main character is pretty darn unlikable. You must have been aware that this might be a problem. Did this worry you? How did you approach it so that we would root for Pamela (P.L. Travers)?

KM: I think if I had allowed myself to think that people would dislike Pamela I would never have taken on the task. I approached her with a great feeling of tenderness; I was moved when I read her story and I enjoyed how ornery she was. I always wanted her to be a character you loved to hate but whom, over time, you came to understand was damaged and could forgive even if it was just a little. Creativity comes from all sorts of places and I admired Pamela for being able to create a character so beloved out of so much pain. [Saving Mr. Banks director] John Lee Hancock talks about how her life was shards of glass but that once you put those shards into a frame they become a thing of beauty. I guess that’s what we both hope the audience will see too.

Related links: Screenplay Review—Saving Mr. Banks  

Related post: Screenwriting Quote #54 (Walt Disney) Touches on Disney’s  childhood in Marceline, Mo.

Scott W. Smith

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“A whole new UNIVERSE of ADVENTURE is about to open up for you!
Trailer for Robinson Crusoe on Mars

“Here’s my guilty secret, I have always loved the literature and the cinema of the fantastic. From earliest memory. The earliest movies I saw on television when I was a kid were Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein—the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater, my older brother took me  took me when I was five years old to see to see Robinson Crusoe on Mars which was so cool….It goes back to Melies. ‘Here, here—look what we can do. This is impossible in real life.’ Of course, you can do a stage version I suppose, but film does the illusion better. I always loved black and white for that reason because that doesn’t exist in real life. It’s an artificial representation of something remarkable.  Movies show you experiences you don’t necessarily have every day in life. And the more magical they get the more out of our experience they are, but they make me feel rather childlike when they work.

This is my favorite story about Tom Hanks. (One of my favorite stories.) When we were shooting The Green Mile —it was a long shoot— we spent lots of time on the set and I remember one day when I turned to him and I said, ‘What are you doing here? What made you want to be an actor? What brought you to this life?’ And he said, ‘When I was a kid…,’ eight years old or something like that he saw the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts, and he said ‘I saw Jason, I saw guys fighting skeletons with swords and I said that’s what I want to do!’  That where Tim Hanks’ passion springs from. I love hearing where the passion comes from.”
Frank Darabont
Frank Darabont at Masterclass —Zurich Film Festival

P.S. The trailer for Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) states that Crusoe is “struggling for survival in a cruel environment.” That could said of many films—from Winter’s Bone (which I’ve written a little bit about) to Life of Pi (which I’ll write about on Monday.)

Scott W. Smith

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“A word that was very important to me when I was making the movie was timeless.”
Director Nora Ephron on making Sleepless in Seattle

“While my informal and unscientific Twitter poll revealed that When Harry Met Sally might be Nora’s most beloved film, I think Sleepless in Seattle is my favorite. I often think about it as a reminder that we can be creative and clever with structure.”
Script reader Amanda Pendolino
Writing Advice from Nora Ephron 

Even if you don’t like mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies, there is much to appreciate about Sleepless in SeattleAfterall it not only made more than $250 million back when it was released in 1993, but it’s listed as one of AFI’s top ten romantic comedy of all-time. A list that includes City Lights, Annie Hall, The Philadelphia Story and When Harry Met Sally. (That last film was co-written by Nora Ephron, the director/co-writer of Sleepless in Seattle, reminding us of how talented she was.)

After her recent death, I revisited the director’s commentary of Sleepless in Seattle and it’s a great example of the collaborative filmmaking process. So in just under 1,500 words here are some take aways from Nora that I hope will make you a better writer and/or filmmaker.

Screenplay
Nora is very open on the Sleepless in Seattle commentary that she was “one of several  screenwriters who worked on it.” The original script written by Jeff Arch, then an English teacher in Virginia, was a romantic drama. That script found its way to producer Gary Foster, who in a 1993 LA Times article said, “I got choked up a few times and was real touched by it. I took it to TriStar and we were lucky enough to get it optioned.”

Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward (The Sting) was brought on to do a version and the third credited writer on the script was Nora. But according the commentary, after the film was greenlit Nora brought her sister Delia (credited as Associate Producer) in to punch up the comedy in the script, the kids roles, and improve the Tom Hanks character.

And even that isn’t the end of it as Nora mentions how Hanks himself, and actors Victor Garber and Rob Reiner, all used improv to add more humor. Nora even credits the producer Foster with writing the baseball/Baltimore bit about, “Everyone thinks Brooks Robinson is the greatest.” (A nice subtle touch of credibility for those who remember the Baltimore Orioles third baseman whose nickname was “The Human Vacuum Cleaner.”)

Cinematography
A standard practice in Hollywood is to team a new director with a seasoned director of photography (DP). This was Nora’s second feature, but her first bigger Hollywood-budgeted film. The DP for Sleepless in Seattle was Sven Nykvist. He was born in Sweden in 1922  making him 70-years-old when he shot the film. By then he had long been considered one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. (In his 2006 obituary in the New York Times it stated that Nykvist, “became the first European cinematographer accepted into the American Society of Cinematographers.)

He had won a couple of Oscars for his work on two Ingmar Bergman films, Fanny and Alexander (1982) and Cries & Whisper (1972). But he also shot Crimes and Misdemeanors (directed by Woody Allen), Chaplin (directed by Richard Attenborough), Pretty Baby (directed by Louis Malle) Star 80 (directed by Bob Fossee), The Tenant (directed by Roman Polanski) and Bergman’s Persona. Again even if you’re not a fan of romantic comedies you can appreciate what Nykvist brought to the party. (Watch the film with the audio off to help you appreciate the cinematography.)

The very first thing that signaled to me that there was some weight to Sleepless in Seattle was the opening shot at the cemetery when a standard funeral scene turns visually stunning when the camera cranes up and exposes the skyline of Chicago. (Nora said that that shot was an attempt to do a version of Saul Steinberg’s famous cover of The New Yorker where New York City dwarfs the rest of the world.)

Nora points out one scene that was shot at Tiffany’s, “Sven amazingly took about half an hour to light the whole thing with two big 10Ks. It was kind of amazing.” (Heck, I’ve taken an hour to light a simple interview.)

Actors
Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. As one critic said about them together they, “should win a Nobel Prize for chemistry.”  But it wasn’t just chemistry, it was talent. Talent often acted out in non-verbal subtext by just the expression in their eyes.

Keep in mind that Hanks’ next two roles after Sleepless in Seattle won him back to back Oscars for best actor (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump). And his next two after those (Apollo 13, Toy Story) weren’t too bad either. Nora points out one scene where Hanks’ is juggling a small stack of mail:

“That little thing of letters that falls off the pile of Tom’s is something that the first time it happened I thought, ‘Oh, he dropped the letters,” the second and third time he did it I realized that he did it on purpose. And one of the reasons he did it is Tom knew better than I did that the scene needed something to end it. Even if it was a little noise. And that little package of envelopes that drops gives the scene what you call a button and helps tremendously where the writing fails.”
Nora Ephron

Music
Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Carly Simon, Gene Audrey, Tammy Wynette, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Harry Connick Jr, Celine Dion and Louis Armstrong. Something for everyone. But with a twist. As Nora put it, “Standards sung by unlikely people.”

Editing
Editor Robert M. Reitano helped shape the film after it was shot. (The opening and the close of film had to be restructured in post. In the first act the Meg Ryan character actually had a long backstory that included her also living in Chicago at the same time the Tom Hanks character did. It wasn’t only written into the script, it was shot. Nora simply said, “That little idea of mine didn’t work.” ) There are other things Nora picked up from the Emmy-winning Reitano including a big argument between Hanks and his son (Ross Malinger) at a key turning point at the end of the second act:

“My first movie (This is My Life) had a big fight in it and my editor Bob Reitano was cutting it and very gently pointed out to me that the next time I had a fight scene I ought to move people around a little bit. So this was the next time to shoot a fight scene and I really paid attention to what he said. People just bounce all over the place in this fight.”
Nora Ephron

Locations
Shot in Seattle, Baltimore, Chicago, New York. The story is dialogue driven, but those four cities in one film make for a visually interesting backdrop.

There’s a lot more depth to this film that I won’t go into beyond saying there are some solid supporting actors, graphics (Milton Glaser/Walter Bernard) and production design. In fact, in wanting to connect Hanks and Ryan together early in the film they have a shot of Ryan walking out a door in Baltimore and do a match cut to Hanks walking out the door in Seattle. According to Nora they didn’t just find a similar door in each city but they shipped the door to both cities. That wasn’t a happy accident, that’s production design at its best showing attention to detail in pre-production.

There are films I’ve seen just this month that I’ve already forgotten the titles of, who’s in them, or what they were even about. But Sleepless in Seattle is a title that rolls easily off the tongue and is a movie that has stayed in the hearts of many for the past almost 20 years now. I don’t think Nora Ephron set out to make a modern day classic in her second film out of the gate, but sometimes the right elements come together in a film and create magic.

Update: Just after I posted this I learned that today just happens to be Tom Hanks’ birthday. A fitting ending to a post about a movie about fate. Happy Birthday Tom Hanks.

Related posts/ Nora Ephron:
Nora Ephron on Hollywood, Hookers & Nuns
Nora Ephron, Voice-over & the Mafia
Screenwriting Quote #165 (Nora Ephron)
Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

Tom Hanks:
“Big” Emotions
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connections

P.S. And because I doubt I’ll ever have a reason to mention Brooks Robinson again on this blog about screenwriting—and to preserve my man card— here’s a fine 3-minute tribute to Robinson by Roy Firestone :

Scott W. Smith

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“I see myself as a shadow of Nora Ephron’s, but…I can aspire to that.”
Diablo Cody

“It was her journalist’s curiosity that made Nora [Ephron] the directing talent she was. Her writing was always voice and detail. I once sent her a piece I was trying to write, and her response was three words: “Voice! Voice! Voice!'”
Tom Hanks
Time article 6/27/12 

Nora Ephron had a voice. A voice honed over the years as a journalist. Keep in mind that when she graduated from Wellesley College in 1962 that there weren’t a lot of options for female journalists. Yet, three years later she interviewed Bob Dylan* at a peak in his early career. (Shortly after he had recorded Like a Rolling Stone, which decades later Rolling Stone magazine named as the #1 Greatest Song of All Time.)

And though she started writing (and selling) screenplays in the 70s, she did not see one of her feature scripts produced until after she was 40-years old (Silkwood/1983). In the 90s, and then over 50, she added being a film director to her resume. She had a voice mixed with persistence.

So I thought I’d round out the week where I started it, remembering her voice.

“The hardest thing about being a woman director is becoming one.”
Nora Ephron
Rolling Stone interview with Lawrence Frascella

“It’s important to eat your last meal before it actually comes up….When you’re actually going to be having your last meal, you either will be too sick to have it or you aren’t going to know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt.”
Nora Ephron
2010 Interview with Charlie Rose 

“In my own business, in the movie business, there are many more of us [women] who are directors, but it’s just as hard to get a movie made about women as it was 30 years ago. And it’s much, much harder than it was 60 years ago. Look at the parts the Oscar-nominated actresses played this year—hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker  and nun.”
Nora Ephron
1996 Wellesley commencement speech

Related posts:
Making “Sleepless in Seattle”
Nora Ephron, Voice-over & the Mafia
Screenwriting Quote #165 (Nora Ephron)
Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

P.S. I believe the hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker roles Ephron was talking about were Leaving Las Vegas (Elisabeth Shue), Mighty Aphrodite (Mira Sorvino), Casino (Sharon Stone)—though technically an ex-prostitute, and not sure who the fourth hooker was— and the nun was in Dead Man Walking (Susan Sarandon).

* Dylan quote from the 1965 interview with Ephron (and Susan Edmiston):
“Great paintings shouldn’t be in museums. Have you ever been in a museum? Museums are cemetaries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men’s rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out. The only thing where it’s happening is on radio and records, that’s where people hang out. You can’t see great paintings. You pay half a million and hang one in your house and one guest sees it. That’s not art. That’s a shame, a crime. Music is the only thing that’s in tune with what’s happening. It’s not in book form, it’s not on the stage. All this art they’ve been talking about is nonexistent. It just remains on the shelf. It doesn’t make anyone happier. Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a Picasso in their daily diner. It’s not the bomb that has to go, man, it’s the museums.”

Scott W. Smith

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