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Posts Tagged ‘Walter Matthau’

“At first the screenplay (Good Will Hunting) seemed perhaps a little wordy. As Matt (Damon) joked on the set when we shot the movie, the Good Will staging was usually two people sitting in chairs across from each other and talking. Only the backgrounds and the characters changed, and usually only one of the characters changed since Will is in virtually every scene. “
Director Gus Van Sant
Introduction to Good Will Hunting; A Screenplay

Perhaps the reason that Good Will Hunting has so many scenes of two people talking is that its writers (and co-stars), Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (then in their early 20s), wrote much of the screenplay with just the two of them driving a car across the country between Boston and LA.

“A lot of Good Will was written on such cross-county road trips. We tell each other stories while in a particular character, usually to make each other laugh or to make sure that Ben doesn’t nod off…So it sort of ups the ante as far as the story goes. When we both get into an improv that we both like, that we both think is going well and dialogue we are relatively excited by, I will open up the glove compartment where I keep a notebook and write down a few notes that we will use later to recall the entire improvisation.”
Matt Damon

Damon and Affleck won an Oscar in 1998 for their script. Best Writing. Check out this video as Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau present the award to the childhood friends turned actors/writers and eventually Hollywood superstars. Because over the years since then Damon and Affleck haven’t written another script together some speculated if they really wrote the script. Writers and directors from William Goldman, Kevin Smith to Rob Reiner have been mentioned at one time or another. But since Damon and Affleck’s careers took off after their early success, they probably haven’t had much time together for many cross-country roads trips. More recently Damon as mentioned a little help from an Oscar nominated director.

“We just asked if we could have a meeting with (Terrence Malick) . We went to Boston to see him. And we had it in the script that my character and Minnie’s left together at the end of the movie. Terry didn’t read the script but we explained the whole story to him, and in the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.’ And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that ‘s better. He said it and he probably doesn’t even remember that he said it. He started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that’s enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough. That’s where we come from. If you just leave that’s a big enough deal. It doesn’t have to build up to anything more.”
Matt Damon
Interview with Tom Shone

So you can add writer/director  Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up) to those said to have had a hand (a finger?) in making Good Will Hunting work. But there are only two names on that Oscar—Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. How does the expression go? Success has many fathers, but failure has no mother.

P.S. Four years after Good Will Hunting’s Oscar win, another story about another math genius with ties to Boston (A Beautiful Mind) won four Oscars including Best Screenplay and Best Picture. More movie cloning?

Related post: Writing “A Beautiful Mind”

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s universality is obvious. Who among us, sometime in his life, hasn’t shared living quarters with another human being?…The play represented everyone in the world, including, I imagine, astronauts in space for weeks at a time.”
Neil Simon on his play/screenplay The Odd Couple

While my post on Scent of a Woman showed a movie that was first based on a character, In Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the initial inspiration seems based more on a situation. Of course, the characters were part of what made the situation interesting, so maybe it’s unfair to divorce the two. Speaking of divorce…

“Anyone who has ever read anything about my career probably knows the oft-told story of how The Odd Couple was born. The birth was the result of the union of my brother Danny and his friend Roy Gerber, an agent, who in the early sixties, were each divorced. They decided to move in together to save expenses., helping to defray the cost of alimony, which they were both paying. What inevitably happened to these two roommates is that the fights and squabbles they had recently left behind, after their marital breakups, suddenly resurfaced in their own new relationship in the apartment they now shared. The odd thing about this off couple was that Roy and Danny were having the same problems with each other as they did with their wives. Perhaps worse. The point being that if you have annoying traits, habits and idiosyncrasies, you bring them with you no matter where you go. Felix (my brother Danny) was the stereotypical ‘housewife,’ who puffs up the cushions immediately after someone gets up from a chair or tells you to eat your slice of pizza over the dish to avoid leaving crumbs on the floor. Oscar (Roy Gerber) was the complete opposite. He would rather leave crumbs on the floor well past the following Christmas than to get out a vacuum clearer, which was probably broken from lack of use. Hence an idea was born.”
Neil Simon
Introduction by Neil Simon in The Odd Couple I & II The Original Screenplays

Neil’s brother Danny was a gifted comedy writer who worked alongside people like Jackie Gleason, Red Buttons,Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner and Larry Gilbert (Tootise). He was eight years older than Neil and taught Neil a lot about writing. He taught others as well.

“I learned a few things on my own since, and modified some of the things he taught me, but everything, unequivocally, that I learned about comedy writing I learned from Danny Simon.”
Woody Allen

Back in the 80s & 90s Danny gave workshops on comedy writing. I met him once in L.A. and wanted to attend his workshop but didn’t for one reason or another. But I have always wonder what kind of things he covered in the workshop. Can’t find out much about it online, either. But if anybody did, I’d love to hear about it. Danny did the workshop for 15 years so I’d surprised if there isn’t a book of material or some CDs kicking around somewhere.

Danny originally started to write what became The Odd Couple but couldn’t get past the 14 page mark. Danny later told the Post, “Neil thought it was the greatest idea ever and kept calling me up every four weeks to see how the play was coming, But I kept looking for excuses not to write it.” He eventually told his brother, “Doc, I’ll never get around to writing this play. You better take it.”

Neil took it and ran and it became Neil’s most preformed play. In the last year it’s probably played somewhere near where you lived. Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Art Carney, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are just a few of the hundreds of actors who have played Felix and Oscar. Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno were the original Broadway cast of The Female Odd Couple. There were other spin-offs as well such as The New Odd Couple and even an animated series. Neil reportedly paid Danny 10% of the royalties from the play.

Scott W. Smith


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