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Posts Tagged ‘Unforgiven’

Screenwriter David Webb Peoples was born in Connecticut, went to school at Berkeley, and was a film editor before making his mark as a writer. He’s been called “anti-Capra” because he finds the films of Frank Capra at their worst, “corny, preachy and sanctimonious.” He credits the film Taxi Driver in the early 70s with opening the door for showing violence as violent.

He wrote five screenplays before he sold one as is most known for his work on Blade Runner and for writing Unforgiven, which which starred Clint Eastwood and earned 4 Oscars including Best Picture.

David Webb Peoples was actually 36 years old when he sold the script Unforgiven (1976), but  52 years old when the film finally got produced and released in 1992. That’s a long journey from script to screen. He also received an Oscar-nomination for the Unforgiven screenplay.

In regards to Unforgiven’s journey, he was asked many years ago by Elaine Dutka of the LA Times,  “Why did it take so long getting that project off the ground?

“Francis Ford Coppola optioned it in ’84. He took it around, but couldn’t get financing. Clint picked up the option in 1985 and said he was making it “next year” a couple of times. The year before last, my wife was at the Telluride Film Festival and Clint walked on stage. He was overwhelmed by the scenery, he told the audience, and figured it was probably time to make his Western. I was thrilled.

Francis would have done it brilliantly as he does everything else, but it’s hard to imagine anyone making it as straightforwardly and uncompromisingly as Clint. No studio would have made it that way–dark, moody. With a lot of voices, things generally end up becoming blander and more accessible. “Unforgiven” was Clint Eastwood saying “This is what I’m going to do . . . get out of my way.”
David Webb Peoples

I don’t know how long it took Peoples’ to write Unforgiven, but its 15+ year journey is one more reminder that it takes a little time sometimes.

Scott W. Smith

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Orson Welles was only 25-years-old when he made his first film Citizen Kane. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made. He won his sole Oscar on that film. He was 43 when he directed his last significant film Touch of Evil. Welles died in 1985 at age 70. Though he worked as an actor, voice-over talent, director, and even had his own TV show in his later years,  he was most well known to the general public for his Paul Masson commercials; “We will sell no wine before its time.”

When Clint Eastwood was 25-years-old he was digging swimming pools in Los Angeles.  While in his thirties he started to build a name for himself as an actor, but it was not until he was in his forties when he turned his hand to directing. And that was a 12 minute film called The Beguiled: The Storyteller. He followed that with the feature Play Misty for Me and has gone on to direct more that 30 films. He’s won four Academy Awards (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) the last one at age 74. He was 78 when he directed and starred in Gran Torino, which to date (according to Box Office Mojo) is the highest grossing film that he’s ever starred in or directed.

“Some people glow really early, in their twenties and thirties, then in their fifties they are not doing as much. but I feel that growing up and maturing, constantly maturing—aging is the impolite way of saying it-—I like to think there is an expansion going on philosophically.”
Clint Eastwood
Devil’s Guide to Hollywood
Joe Eszterhas
Page 361

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t know if any studio would make Butch Cassidy today.”
William Goldman

When I was a kid there was a place in Florida called Six Gun Territory that was an old west theme park near Ocala. They had a rail road, a saloon complete with can-can dancers, old-time photo studio, and most importantly they staged bank robberies and shootouts in the street. I still remember being around 9-years-old and the feel and the sound of walking on the gravel streets wearing cowboy boots.

I have many fond memories of that place and even shot my first 16mm film there. I remember ending that film paying homage to The Great Train Robbery by ending with a shot of a gunfighter shooting into the camera for no other reason than I thought it looked cool.

Every time I watch the opening scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I think of Six Gun Territory. I don’t know if that was the first movie I ever saw set in the old west but I know it’s the one I go back to the most. It’s also the second highest rated western (after High Noon) on AFI’s top 100 films (1997) joining just a handful of other  Westerns that  made the list (Shane, Stagecoach, The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven).

Paul Newman and Robert Redford speaking screenwriter William Goldman’s words—that’s great stuff.  It took Goldman eight years to write the script which paid him a record fee up to that date of $400,000.  He also took home the Oscar for the 1970 film.

I sometimes watch favorite films with the sound off to get a different perspective. The movie holds up well without the great banter (“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”) With the sound off you follow the story easily and it plays as a visually stunning action film. (Though personally I could do without the trendy zoom lens shots.)

On this viewing I also realized that it perfectly matches Goldman’s “stay with the money” theory. Studios pay actors a lot of money, because audiences pay money to see stars. How many scenes do you think there are in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that don’t include Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and/or the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford)? The grand total is…zero. In fact, there is one scene where the town’s men talk about what to do about these bank robbers, and it’s more humorous by having Butch and Sundance listening to the discussion from a hotel balcony. Stay with the money.

“The essential opening labor a screenwriter must execute is, of course, deciding what the proper structure should be for the particular screenplay you are writing. And to do that, you have to know what is absolutely crucial in the telling of your story—what is its spine? Whatever it is, you must protect it to the death…(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman 

Adventures in the Screen Trade

If I recall my philosophy class correctly, it was Heraclitus who said a long, long time ago that “you can’t step in the same river twice.” I think the times are always changing and that’s a good thing to realize. It was true of the old west, and it’s true of the new west, the Midwest, Key West—wherever you live. “The times they are a-changin’.”

By the way, Six Gun Territory pre-dated Disney World but closed in 1984. The land where it sat is now a strip mall. If you want to survive….

Scott W. Smith

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