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Posts Tagged ‘Wake Me When It’s Funny’

This was originally posted in October 2012 as Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 4):

The funny thing about Garry Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny is it’s not really that funny of a book. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has its humorous moments, but it’s more part of his story and experiences of working for decades in TV and movies, and part of it is just rock solid practical advice. In fact, today’s directing insight from Marshall is not only something I never heard taught in film school—but I’ve never heard anyone else ever mention it in regards to filmmaking:

“I saw Michelle Pfeiffer at the catering truck ordering a bagel on Frankie and Johnny. When she discovered they were all out of bagels, she started to cry. I was ready to run to the nearest deli to buy her a dozen bagels, but she said it wasn’t that important. It turned out she was having her period and everything made her cry. I didn’t try to cheer her up but made it a positive thing because she had several crying scenes in the movie. After lunch, we sat down with the production schedule and, with Michelle’s approval, plotted the crying scenes around her menstrual cycle. This made these scenes easier for everyone, especially Michelle. Yes, I’m a filmmaker and I chart menstrual cycles. Later I saw Michelle walking around the set with a sign she had pinned on the back of her bathrobe that read BEWARE PMS.

“I originally learned the importance of women’s cycles from Debbie Reynolds on How Sweet It Is! We were sitting in our big production meeting with Debbie and ten others talking about a swimming sequence. Suddenly, Debbie secretly passed me a note that said, ‘Garry, ask me when my period is.’ Now, I was a first-time producer who knew nothing and I wanted to impress the others, but didn’t know what to make of this note. Was she coming on to me in the height of the meeting? I looked at Debbie and she gave me an encouraging nod. ‘Errrr…Debbie,’ I said, ‘when is your period?’ She smiled and said, ‘Oh, what a bright producer Garry is. That’s such a smart question to ask. You all should know my menstrual cycle so you can schedule the swimming sequences around my period.'”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 201-202

Now some other film director may have given that advice, but I don’t recall reading Ford, Capra, Hitchcock, Kazan, Coppola, Spielberg, Soderbergh—or even the female directors like Nora Ephron or Kathryn Bigelow—mentioning anything about menstrual cycles in terms of directing. Doesn’t mean no one else has, but regardless, it’s good practical advice. While things were less politically correct when the book was first published 20-years-ago, the fact that book was co-written by Garry’s daughter, and the two main sources are Michelle Pfeiffer and Debbie Reynolds, I hope show this isn’t some sexist and misogynistic thought.

P.S. Debbie Reynolds, most famous for her role in Singing in the Rain, is now 83 and still singing and acting and has a website—debbiereynolds.com. In 2013 she published Unsinkable: A Memoir (The definitive memoir, a story of heartbreak, hope, and survival). She’s also the real life mother of the fictional Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s an extended quote from TV and feature film director Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple, Pretty Women) on working with actors taken from his book Wake Me When It’s Funny, written with his daughter Lori Marshall. And perviously used in the 2012 post Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 3):

“The truth is that there are a few stars who are just one taco short of a combo platter. The director’s job is to deal with it all…On the first day of a shoot, I always let my lead actors know that they’re the only ones on the set who are allowed to whine. Their performance can make or break the film, so if they want to whine every once in a while they can. Stars can be babies and learning to pacify then is part of the job and I don’t have a problem with that. However, I believe that every star has the ability to behave like an adult for at least an hour a day. So on the first day I take my stars aside and say, ‘I’m going to treat you like a temperamental artist. But there will be a time, say when we’re behind schedule or the sun is going down, when I will ask you to be an adult.’ This reasoning has worked with every actor I’ve ever directed from big stars to up-and-coming stars to never-going-to-be stars. When it really counted, they were adults and helped me solve a problem.”
Garry Marshall

P.S. And “dealing with it all” is good advice on smaller projects as well. A few years ago I was directing a video project for a national client using a well-known celebrity as talent. We had him booked for four hours for a short promo, but first thing he told me when we met on the set was,”I’ll tell you one thing, we’re not going to be here four hours.” I didn’t make it an issue and we were done in two hours. Embrace your limitations. There are many accounts of feature directors being challenged by stars on the first day of shooting as a sort of test of wills. And sometimes the results are difficult to handle. The extreme being the case on the shooting of First Blood, where the original actor playing in a key part walked because of a disagreement after the first day of shooting. Richard Crenna stepped in to fill the role.

Scott W. Smith

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Originally published on Oct. 4, 2012 as The Power of Gentleness:

“Several years ago when I lectured at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, I was startled to see how much the students knew about directing. They were up to date on the latest technology, knew which lenses to use to achieve different shots, and were comfortable behind state-of-the art sound and editing systems. Many of them honestly knew more about the mechanics of film directing than I did. This was ironic considering that I had directed seven feature films and most of them hadn’t even directed one.

“What was obvious, however, was that they didn’t understand this: Directing is about more than just the nuts and bolts and technological process. That can be learned. It’s also about the people, which is much more difficult to master. More important than selecting the right camera lens is learning how to get the star out of his trailer. More important than knowing the cranes and alternating lengths of the dissolves is knowing the mood of an actor and using his mood to stretch the actor to a better performance. I do this through gentleness, which often confuses my co-workers. Most people in Hollywood don’t understand the power of gentleness.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 189-190

When I discovered Garry Marshall’s book in a used bookstore in Dallas a few weeks ago I wasn’t expecting to blog posts about it for two weeks. But that’s what looks like is going to happen. Since the book was written 15 years ago [now 18 years ago], and some of Marshall’s greatest successes were 20 and 30 years ago, I was concerned if my views would drop off. Well, that didn’t happen. In fact, last week with all those Garry Marshall insights made for the most singled viewed week I’ve ever had,

It’s nice when you go with your gut and it works out well. Part of the boost in views came from writer Larry Brody and his excellent blog TV Writer  when he linked to this blog in his post Garry Marshall on Rewriting. So a big thanks to Marshall, Brody, and the new readers for the boost.

Scott W. Smith

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This was originally posted on October 3, 2012 as Writing & Rewriting ‘Pretty Woman’ (Part 2). Who would have thought three years ago Donald Trump would seriously be running for president of the United States? In one interview, as you’ll read in this post, director Garry Marshall said Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman was a “Donald Trump-style executive.”:

“All stories are about transformation.”
Blake Snyder

“Movies are all about rewriting.”
Garry Marshall

“When Disney first sent me the script for Pretty Woman, it was a dark tale about a cold and heartless corporate raider and a drug-addicted prostitute who had been hooking for six years. The relationship ended with the raider’s giving the prostitute three thousand dollars and knocking her to the ground. Vivian then screamed, ‘You go to hell! I hate you! I hate your money! I hate it! as he drove away leaving her in the gutter where he found her….What bothered me about the script was that it didn’t make me care about either of the characters. Neither of them generated much sympathy and I rooted for no one.”
Garry Marshall

In the book Wake Me When It’s Funny, Garry Marshall mentions that Jeffrey Katzenberg (then with Disney) brought him in to “supervise the rewrite and lighten it up” the script that would become the movie Pretty Woman.

“We had five different writers on Pretty Women and the first to attempt the rewrite was the original screenwriter, J.F. Lawton. Even after Lawton took a stab, the studio still felt that the script needed some more work. Our approach to the film was to make it the story of two people from totally different backgrounds united in a fairy tale. In all the rewrites, the part of Vivian, the prostitute, came quite easily. It was the character of the businessman, Edward Lewis, that presented the most problems. Only Barbara Benedek, the sole woman writer in the group, got the voice of Edward down by creating a Donald Trump-style executive with a vulnerable side.”
Writer/Director Garry Marshall

One of the writers was Stephen Metcalfe;

“Whenever people ask me what I’ve ‘done’ as a writer, the easiest answer is Pretty Woman. Instant credibility. But what I don’t go into is the fact I never got screen credit on it. I feel I should have, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really bother me. It wasn’t my story. The original script – 3000 – was written by a fine writer, J.F. Lawton. The Julia Roberts character was a coke addicted street walker. The Richard Gere character was a manipulating socio-path. It was gripping, dark and moody and was very real. What it wasn’t was a romantic comedy. And yet someone at Disney – perhaps it was Jeffrey Katzenberg – thought it could be. They believed it so much they’d already hired the director, Gary Marshall, who was sort of the Sidney Lumet of comedy and they’d hired Julia Roberts, who was not yet Julia Roberts but was undoubtably going to be.”
Stephen Metcalfe
From 2008 article Pretty Woman on his website

So if you’re keeping track, so far the writers attached to Pretty Woman were J.F. Lawton, Barbara Benedek and Stephen Metcalfe. Robert Garland did a version of the script and I don’t know if Marshall counted himself as the fifth writer or if it was someone else. I don’t know who to credit with writing this excellent opening description of the Richard Gere character:

EDWARD HARRIS stands at the window, impassively looking down at the party. Edward is a handsome, well groomed man around forty. He looks tired: the kind of fatigue that can’t be cured by a night’s sleep.

What I do know is that Lawton is single credited on the screenplay and received an WGA nomination for the script.

And while there is no shortage of essays about Pretty Women’s role in feminism, capitalism, and morality, or debates about the cliche of the “hooker with a heart of gold” and the businessman with daddy issues—the simple fact is Pretty Women captured the magic.

The film has sold more tickets in the United States than any other romantic comedy (yes, including My Big Fat Greek Wedding). And I think it captured the magic many ways using several tried and true methods including sex, shopping, and Cinderella. Along with a touch of Pygmalion, rags to riches, fish out of water, low class/high class, the American dream of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (even if they are knee-high hooker boots), finding the love of your life, and the classic transformation theme.

Of all of those, I think the transformation theme is what resonates the strongest. It’s one we put the put our personal hopes in.

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner

Yes, one side of Pretty Woman is silly, superficial, and demoralizing to women, etc., etc.—but another aspect of it touches a universal longing. And that is that no matter how low we are in life that there is hope that the winds of change will blow in our direction.

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

While I’m no expert on world religions, I imagine that most deal with the concept of the broken made whole, the weak becoming strong, and the lost being redeemed. And for the broken, weak, and lost—what else is there but hope?

Hope is why some people buy lottery tickets, some go to church, and why others go to movies. Check out my post Hope & Redemption to see a list of films that I think follow those themes and have found large audiences, critical acclaim, and awards. Kind of the triple crown of filmmaking.

P.S. Interesting Pretty Women triva—considered for the role that Julie Roberts shined in were Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Karen Allen, and Meg Ryan. Film historian David Thomson compared Roberts beauty in Pretty Woman with Elizabeth Taylor’s role in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun. (A once every fifty years kind of thing.)

P.P.S. Screenwriter Ben-Hur Sepehr wrote a screenplay called Temporary Arrangement in 1984 and sent the screenplay to an employee at Disney. He sued for copyright infringement but lost in court in 1992. The Entertainment Law Reporter wrote, “Sepehr argued that in both stories ‘a Hollywood  Boulevard prostitute is transformed emotionally, socially and morally through her employment by a super-rich business tycoon. A further result of the encounter is the transformation of the businessman also.’ The theme of ‘transformation’ was an unprotectible plot idea, stated the court. Judge Byrne, citing the ‘well established’ principle that broad character types are not protected by copyright law, concluded that the characters in the two works were not substantially similar – other than the fact that the two heroines were both prostitutes, they were entirely different characters, as were the two ‘successful, hardworking business executives.”

Scott W. Smith

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The directing tips today culled from Garry Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny have to do with working with studios and crew members:

“One of the best characteristics a director can have is the ability to compromise wisely. If you don’t want to compromise you can go off and make your own movie, but unfortunately you may have to use your own money….Before I start shooting, I go through my script and block out scenes I’m willing to compromise on and those I won’t. It usually breaks down like this: Twenty-five percent of the arguments don’t matter, so I let the studio win. Fifty percent of the arguments can go either way: some I win, some they win. However, the last 25 percent I have to win at all cost or I won’t be able to make my movie. My advice is win that 25 percent or quit.”
Garry Marshall

“Choose your cinematographer wisely. Don’t hire the one with the longest credits. Don’t take the most impressive education. Work with the one you get along with best. A director’s alliance with a cinematographer is one of the most crucial on a film. You can dream all the clever shots and tricky angles, but unless you can communicate your vision to the cinematographer, it’s not going to get on film. If you hire a cinematographer who differs somehow from you philosophically then the crew will sometimes split: Half the crew will listen to you and the other half, particularly the camera operator, will listen to the cinematographer.”
Garry Marshall

“I now become cranky when I can’t get my special people on a movie. Whether it is Dante, Albert, my favorite assistant director Ellen Schwartz, or my favorite second assistant director Bettiann Fishman, working with friendly faces makes me feel more comfortable and cuts down on time it takes to get to know someone new. It’s exciting to work with new people, but usually takes much longer to find your way.”
Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall talks about problems he had with the crew on the first feature he ever directed and basically echoes what director Steven Spielberg said about the crew on his first TV show he directed.  It’s not uncommon for seasoned veteran crew members, sometimes with many decades of experience, to wonder who let the newbie director take the reins. Even a small video shoot can get pretty hierarchical. I’ve seen, heard, and experienced plenty of situations on shoots where a lot of sizing up is going on. It goes with the territory—from small students shoots to big Hollywood features. I’ve often said one of the most practical (and remembered) things I learned in film school was a teacher who told us, “Everyone on the crew thinks they can direct better than you.”

Scott W. Smith

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“The truth is that there are a few stars who are just one taco short of a combo platter. The director’s job is to deal with it all.”
Garry Marshall

“On the first day of a shoot, I always let my lead actors know that they’re the only ones on the set who are allowed to whine. Their performance can make or break the film, so if they want to whine every once in a while they can. Stars can be babies and learning to pacify then is part of the job and I don’t have a problem with that. However, I believe that every star has the ability to behave like an adult for at least an hour a day. So on the first day I take my stars aside and say, ‘I’m going to treat you like a temperamental artist. But there will be a time, say when we’re behind schedule or the sun is going down, when I will ask you to be an adult.’ This reasoning has worked with every actor I’ve ever directed from big stars to up-and-coming stars to never-going-to-be stars. When it really counted, they were adults and helped me solve a problem.”
Garry Marshall

“You can’t be afraid of actors who are considered stars and you certainly can’t be afraid to give them direction…You have to risk the wrath. From an Oscar winner to a young kid making his screen debut, ever actor needs direction. Tom Hanks is a minimalist when it comes to taking direction. He likes it when a director says basic things like ‘louder.’ ‘softer,’ ‘slower,’ ‘faster,’ ‘darker,’ ‘smarter,’ ‘confused,’ ‘aware,’ or ‘not aware.’ You can do a whole movie with Tom just using those words. After we were together, Tom told me that a director on another film said to him, ‘I see this scene as chartreuse.’ And Tom said, ‘So do I.’ But he didn’t know what the hell the director was talking about. He likes it simple. Other actors require more direction.”
Garry Marshall

“Each actor works a bit differently. Some love to rehearse. Others like to tackle a scene cold. Some stay in character even off-camera while others are the characters only when you yell ‘Action!’ and still others come in and out.”
Garry Marshall

“When I direct a movie, I usually do four or five takes for each shot.”
Garry Marshall

All quotes can be found in the book, Wake Me When It’s Funny, written by producer/director/writer Garry Marshall with his daughter Lori Marshall. BTW—If you’ve never seen the film Nothing in Common (where Marshall directed Tom Hanks), check it out, it’s good stuff.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Here’s more thoughts about directing from Garry Marshall taken from his book, Wake Me When It’s Funny:

“Michael Eisner once said, ‘Garry Marshall doesn’t direct a movie. He hosts a movie.’ That’s pretty accurate. Just as on my television shows, I run a loose ship. I want everyone to get along while they’re working because I hate tension while I’m working. I don’t care if two people kill each other at the wrap party as long as they can get along during the shoot. Movie sets are extremely intense and it’s critical that petty squabbles are kept to a minimum. One way to do this is to make sure each person feel as if he’s one of the most important players on the team. I let anyone make a suggestion on a film, from the smallest star to the biggest Teamster, because everyone is part of the process. I have no use for people who play it safe and refuse to give suggestions. On my set everybody can speak if he waits his turn.”
Garry Marshall

“I once worked with a cinematographer who told me that I didn’t command enough authority to be a film director. One day he brought me a ladder and asked me to stand on top of it. He wanted me to yell at the actors and scream at the crew. Stand tall on this perch, he said. This is the way you should control the set. I climbed up the ladder, yelled, and almost fell off. It just wasn’t my style. I wanted to control the whole set while sitting in the corner, with my eyes closed, sucking on a toothpick (a habit I adopted after I quit smoking). You have to find a way to work that suits you.”
Garry Marshall

“A director has to be part psychiatrist, part teacher, and part parent to everyone on the set. Part lover is not such a good idea because it represents a loss of control on the set. Many people entering show business find the responsibilities of being a director overwhelming and they go on to other jobs. There are many talented people who have directed one picture—some very good pictures—and have never been heard from again.”
Garry Marshall

Related posts:

Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1)

Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich

Directing Non-Professional Actors

Kazan on Directing (Part 1)  The first of eight posts

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