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Posts Tagged ‘Walt Disney’

The man in this case  was writer/director Alexander Mackendrick, and what he walked way from way making movies in Hollywood.  Here’s a documentary about the films Mackendrick made and how he turned to teaching at CalArts—a school founded by Walt Disney.

 

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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“The Skeleton Dance”

Since I covered Walt Disney in some posts this week I thought I’d show you the early work of Disney. The short film The Skeleton Dance was made when Disney was 28 years old. Just a few years after he filed for bankruptcy, and a few years before winning the first of his record bounty of 22 Academy Award in his lifetime. Disney did okay for a kid you spent part of his early years on a farm in Missouri. (Do you really think Disney would have had a fascination with animals if he hadn’t spent time on the farm?)

Screenwriting Quote #54 (Walt Disney) How Marceline, MO was the inspiration behind Main Street USA at Disneyland and Disney World.

Scott W. Smith

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photo-39

At the beginning of 2012 I decided for various reasons that after blogging everyday for three years that I would take the weekends off from blogging. But that all changes today, in that I will use Saturday’s to do a repost of pervious posts. The idea came to me Thursday after I had a meeting at Disney in Celebration, Florida. In that meeting the town of Marceline, Missouri came up and it brought back a trip I took there a few years ago. Back on March 6, 2009 I wrote the post below. So with no real fanfare I bring a new wrinkle to this blog—after 1538 posts— by doing my first repost:

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Walt Disney was a little like Moses. He never made it to the promised land. Disney died a few years before his dream project, Walt Disney World, opened in Florida in 1971.

I remember going to Disney World that opening year and it was magical. Central Florida was not the sprawling place that it is today. No, for better or worse, that sprawl is the after effects of Walt Disney World. Before Disney took a rural area and transformed it into one of the top destinations in the world, Central Florida was lucky to have air conditioning and indoor plumbing.

And in those pre-Disney days in the Orlando area, other than putt-putt golf courses, go-kart rides, and Gatorland there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for a place like Disney World.

Now Orlando has plenty of theme parks, as well as places with indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and more than its share of strip malls. Ah, the power of imagination.

There is no question that Walt Disney is a product of the Midwest, having been born in Chicago and raised in Missouri. But few realize the huge impact little  Marceline, MO had on Walt’s imagination and in effect on the world. For Marceline’s Main Street is the inspiration for Main Street USA.

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When you drive down Marceline’s Main St. today it doesn’t really seem magical. There’s no indication that there is anything special about this place. It’s not one of those quaint main streets you stumble upon while traveling that makes you say, “I’d like to live here.”

But that’s the place where young Walt Disney watched the parades go by on his way to becoming the filmmaker who has won more Oscars than any one else (32).

The farm Disney lived on (and worked on at a young age) in Marceline was also no doubt  fertile ground for young Walt as observing animals played such a large part of his enduring success.

Wade Sampson at mouseplanet.com  unearthed an interview Disney did back in 1933 following the success of his newest film The Three Little Pigs:

“All this talk about my making a lot of money is bunk.  After 10 years of pretty tough sledding, I am now making a moderate profit on my products, but every dime I take in is immediately put back into the business. I’m building for the future. And my goal isn’t millions; it’s better pictures. I’m not interested in money, except for what I can do with it to advance my work. The idea of piling up a fortune for the sake of wealth seems silly to me. Work is the real adventure in life. Money is merely a means to make more work possible….The secret of success if there is any, is liking what you do. I like my work better than my play. I play polo, when I have time, and I enjoy it, but it can’t equal work!”
Walt Disney

And work in 1933, during the Great Depression, was not always easy to come by. Disney provided not only entertainment in a difficult time but also a lot of jobs.  Today Walt Disney Studios still entertains and The Walt Disney Company has annual revenues around $35 Billion.

Side note: I think it’s worth mentioning that Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri (and his inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) is only about an hour and a half away from Marceline, MO. As well as Twian’s birth place of Florida, MO.

Related Post: Walt & Walter in KC –In 2011 I did a video shoot in Kansas City that turned out to be just down the street where Disney built his first studio. I took a photo of that building which, though not in use, is still standing.

Scott W. Smith

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“Montage is conflict.”
Sergei Eisenstein

It’s not always easy to comprehend a Russian book of essays more than 50 years old and translated into English (and reduced to a blog post), but that doesn’t mean we should totally shy away from something more than a traditional sound bite. So here’s some meat to chew on today from someone that Entertainment Weekly listed as the #29 greatest director of all time (between Preston Sturges and Fritz Lang).

“These are the ‘cinematographic’ conflicts within the frame:
Conflict of scales.
Conflict of volumes.
Conflict of masses.
(Volumes filled with various intensities of light)
Conflicts of depths.
And following conflicts, requiring only one further impulse of intensification before flying into antagonistic pairs of pieces:

Close shots and long shots.
Pieces of graphically varied directions. Pieces resolved in volume, with pieces resolved in area.
Pieces resolved in volume, with pieces of lightness.
And, lastly, there are such unexpected conflicts as:
Conflicts between an object and its dimesnsion—and conflicts between an event and its duration.
These may sound strange , but both are familiar to us. The first is accomplished by an optically distorted lens, and the second by stop-motion or slow-motion.”

Writer/Director/Editor Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin)
Film Form

Here’s a classic example of visual conflict from the opening of The Graduate (1967): 

P.S. Eisenstein worked as an engineer for the Red Army before becoming a filmmaker (which explains the technical & theoretical angle his thoughts come from. And according to IMDB, he once considered Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as the single greatest film ever made.  So watch that film again and see how visual conflict is handled. (Fittingly, here’s a Russian translation of the poisoned apple scene from Snow White.)

Related post: Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)

Scott W. Smith

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I didn’t intend to spend several days exploring movie cloning, but it’s turned into quite a rabbit hole of information. On top of the words that I listed in part 1 that explain why some movies remind you of other movies (remake, update, homage, rip-off, mash-up, inspired by, parallels, movie mapping, story patterns, story echo, influences, plagiarism) some additional words have popped up—imitation, riff,  and paean. (Paean: A fervent expression of praise.) Writer Lee A. Matthias at The Last Reveal calls it “Lateral Screenwriting.”

Now on the comment section of Movie Cloning (Part 2) a point was made that the word cloning “makes it sound like copying and that reduced creativity is involved.”  But I’m not talking about hitting Apple—C on a script. And I wrestled with using the word cloning, but went with it because it seemed fresh. Another reason is I associate the concept of DNA with cloning.

Perhaps a scientist can fill us in (in layman’s terms) on how cloning is really an “umbrella term.” Not all cloning is the same. My understanding is that not all cloning is reproductive cloning (a duplicate copy). Nor is there anything easy about it. (And, for the record, scientists do very creative work.)

I think “DNA Cloning” is what I had in mind when linking two films that have similar characteristics. With the example of “Avatar” and “Dances with Wolves” I don’t think there was anything easy about James Cameron’s 15 year journey to get “Avatar” made. But I do think it’s clear that “Avatar” and “Dances with Wolves” do share the same DNA—and that was by design.

Cameron used structural DNA from “Dances” and that helped greatly with some of the heavy lifting on “Avatar,” but there was still a lot of work to be done.

It’s not really even possible to perfectly clone a film unless you had the exact same actors, locations, etc. The 1998 version of Psycho where Gus Van Sant matched Hitchcock’s 1960 version shot for shot is as close as I can think of as a film that was trying to literally clone another film. (I wondered if someone had edited the famous shower scene together from both versions and of course they have uploaded it to You Tube: Psycho Re-Imagined. (I think it was Sydney Pollack who said something to the effect that Hitchcock had his own style because he kept making the same film.)

And if you think all of this talk is beneath you as a writer, listen to the screenwriting advice from a Hollywood agent:

“Deliver a world or a setting that we’ve never seen before, or that we haven’t seen in a while (remember approximately 50% of the movie going audience is between 14 & 24. If a concept was used 10+ years ago, odds are they haven’t seen it). “War of the Worlds” = “Independence Day”=”War of the Worlds”. “Kelly’s Heroes” = “Three Kings”. “Taming of the Shrew”=”10 Things I Hate About You,” “Disturbia” = “Rear Window.” Are these exact matches? No! But are they delivering, or repackaging if you will, concepts that the earlier films/plays successfully sold to the consumer. Yes!”
Bruce Bartlett
Bartlett Screenwriting Tips Blog

Bartlett, by the way. was the first agent I ever talked to. Back in 1996 he read a script of mine called First Comes Marriage.* (In a follow-up phone call he said he was looking for something edgier like Swingers.) He’s a partner at Above the Line Agency in Beverly Hills. (You can submit queries to them online.) His partner, Rima Greer, has written an informative book called The Read , Low Down, Dirty Truth About Hollywood Agenting.

But as for movie cloning, can you really watch the 2010 film Date Movie and not at least think of Hitchcock’s 1959 film North by Northwest? Of course you can, and that’s Bartlett’s point. People just want to watch Steve Carell & Tina Fey and laugh—which is why it made $98 million domestic.  But people who write and are up on film history know otherwise. In fact, I just Googled, “Date Night is North by Northwest” and found a post by Allen Palmer titled, Did you catch Hitchcock in Date Night? He can fill you in on the similarities of the two films.

Ever wonder how Walt Disney and his team of animators were able to crank out so many great films? Maybe it had something to do with using the same DNA. (Again, I saw this connection on Kal Bashir’s website.)

Winnie the Pooh

The Jungle Book

Just one more reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun.

*As a side note, First Comes Marriage, a script I completed in 1995 involved a couple getting married the day they met. It was simply an original idea that I had never seen or read  before (or had ever heard of happening in real life) but I thought it could happen and would be interesting to explore. While never produced, the basic concept was similar to the hit TV show Dharma & Greg (1997-2002), and in the 2008 film What Happens in Vegas.

Scott W. Smith

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“We make the kind of movies we want to see, we love to laugh, but I also believe what Walt Disney said, ‘for every laugh there should be a tear.”
John Lasseter
Pixar director of Toy Story, Cars, and A Bug’s Life

“Come in! Come in, you’ve nothing to fear!”
The old lady in Hansel and Gretel

Several reviews of Toy Story 3 talk of the darker nature of the movie. The film just opened yesterday and I haven’t seen it yet, but I wonder if many have just forgotten the darker corners that Pixar has treaded in the past (and Walt Disney before them).

One of the whole themes of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 is the fear of outliving your purposefulness and being replaced.  Of ending up in the broken toy bin, or even worse— being sold for 25 cents in a yard sale. That’s pretty dark stuff. And it’s set up early in the first film when Buzz Lightyear arrives and Woody fears literally being put up on the shelf.

Here are some of the lines from those first two films:

“No one is getting replaced.”

“Yes sir, we’re next month’s garage sale fonder for sure.”

“Toys don’t last forever.”

“You’re broken, I don’t want to play with you anymore.”

“I hate yard sales.”

Facing your own demise is pretty dark stuff. And don’t forget in Toy Story there is the bad boy next door, Sid, who likes to dismantle and destroy toys and dolls. In Toy Story 2 there is a kidnapping and a threat of Woody being sold and shipped to a collector in Japan. Dark stuff.

Remember conflict is the life blood of movies and the gang at Pixar understand this very well. (Maybe I shouldn’t use “blood” and “gang” in the same sentence when talking about family friendly Pixar, but in the spirit of this post I think it’s okay.)

Being old, forgotten, and left behind is addressed in Cars. (“I’m in this little town called Radiator Springs. You know Route 66? It’s still here!”) Roger Ebert wrote of Cars, “It tells a bright and cheery story, and then has a little something profound lurking around the edges. In this case, it’s a sense of loss.” Cars is all the more poignant since it was the great Paul Newman’s last film. (Cars also happens to be Newman’s highest grossing film.)

And how gut wrenching is that montage of Carl & Ellie’s life  in Pixar’s Up? They meet and have hopes and dreams of a life adventure together. But their savings are depleted time and time again as life problems intrude—a car repair here, a house repair there. Finally, later in their life Carl buys tickets for a trip to South America, but before he can surprise Ellie she gets sick and dies. Dark stuff.

In the opening scene of Pixar’s Finding Nemo, Marlin’s wife and large family are killed by a barracuda. And soon afterwards his only son, Nemo, is captured by a scuba diver. Dark Stuff.

Fortunately the gang at Pixar also know how to balance some of their darker, somber themes by cloaking them with humor. They understand stand that life is a mixture of sadness and humor. They simply understand human emotions—even if their creations aren’t always human.

Certainly part of the magic of Walt Disney was not shying away from harsh and dark conflict. Think of Bambi’s mother being shot (“Mother we made it. Mother…”) or of Cruella De Vil who abducts puppies with the hopes of making a dalmatian coat. We’re talking Silence of the Lambs creepy.

Of course, Disney was just tapping into the tradition of fairy tales before him. Stories of a big, bad wolf who has eaten grandma, a witch who desires to put Hansel and Gretel in an oven, and a giant who yells to a poor, fatherless boy;

Fee-fi-fo-fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman?
Be he ‘live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

In real life we may be scared to go into the woods, but as writers (even writers of children and family stories) into the woods we must go.

But don’t forget to pack a flashlight.

Post tenebras lux.

Related post: Everything I Learned in Film School
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connection
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
Writing “Finding Nemo”
Screenwriting the Pixar Way

Update 6/21/10: I was one of the people who helped make Toy Story 3 a record Father’s Day weekend.  It continued the same theme of the fear of being discarded, of outliving your usefulness. Overall it is a super film with the best ending of the three movies. Had a little water in my eyes at the end and it wasn’t from wearing those 3-D glasses for an hour and a half.

I can’t help wonder how hard it is for people who are unemployed to watch that film with their kids as they face uncertainty of work in the future. Just read an article where 40 is considered old at Google. I could help but think of Woody, Buzz and the gang when I read the following rely in the comments section of the post:

My husband has been coding since 1980 and was plucked from college his junior year by IBM because of a shortage of programmers. He can code rings around most newbies who weren’t born when he wrote his first lines of PL1 and cobalt. The main problem as I see it, is that he doesn’t look shiny and new while he does it and that turns off a lot of employers.

Scott W. Smith

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