Posts Tagged ‘Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)’

“(Scent of a Woman) is my favorite only because I feel like I matured and the movie reflects that.”
Screenwriter Bo Goldman

Before Bo Goldman won an Academy Award as a screenwriter he had to experience his own personal life of ups and downs.

His father owned a chain of department stores which afforded Goldman an opportunity to attend prep schools and prepared him for Princeton University. He spent three years in the Army. All of those experiences would come in handy years later in writing Scent of a Woman.

But in the meantime while still in his twenties had his first play performed on Broadway. He was on the fast track. “First Impressions ran about three months. Then I was ten years trying to get my second one on Broadway,” Goldman told William Froug in Zen and the Art of Screenwriting.

That’s when things got tough for Goldman. “I was young and had a large family. And you know the old story about Broadway; You can’t make a living, you can only make a killing. I was starving, and when my parents died around 1970, 71, 72, I kind of bottomed out…It was humiliating.”

He wrote for TV including a Christmas show for PBS that was successful, and at the same time wrote a screenplay about marriages he saw breaking up which was a new trend. It took nine years to get Shoot the Moon made but the script became a calling card and got the attention of director Milos Forman who was having trouble with a script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Goldman stepped in to get his first produced film credit, as well as his first Oscar. (Shared with Lawrence Hauben, and based on the novel by Ken Kesey and the play written by Dale Wasserman.)

He won his second Oscar four years later for Melvin and Howard.  Scent of a Woman was released in 1992, 13 years after is second Oscar. Goldman explained to Froug where the concept for Scent of a Woman (1992) came from;

“I had been estranged from most of my family, and still am from the ones I grew up with and my long-lost brother, who made millions in mortgage brokerage, became an alcoholic, and had a terribly tragic life. Then I got this SOS from another brother of mine who said the once-rich brother was going to need conservator. He was living in a big expensive New York apartment, a year behind on rent, and had no money at all. I went there and found him living in a kind of shabby elegance. The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer, to strike a phrase. A week later, I came back to California and got a call from Martin Brest, who showed me this sort of forgotten Italian movie, Profuma di Donna. I looked at this movie, and this character struck me as being exactly like my brother, who became the character in Scent of a Woman. The character was crossed with my first sergeant in the Army, a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who was the second man I’ve ever really been afraid of, and the first man I was afraid of—my father. The sergeant was a real soldier…So this character became a hybrid of all these people.”

Of course, Al Pacino brought that character to life (and, believe it or not, is Pacino’s only Oscar-winning performance)—a character forged from Goldman’s life in prep school, experience in the military, his father, and a brother who had gone from riches to rags.

That process that Goldman talked about is a perfect example what I wrote about in Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C).

And how about that phrase of Goldman’s—”The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer.” Fine writing and good inspritation for you to write about the characters who have crossed your path who are living in their equivalent world “of shabby elegance” and riddled with moral cancer. Audiences will always find those creatures facinating to watch. (Noah Cross in Chinatown and Gordon Gekko in Wall St. come to mind.)

Scott W. Smith

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“Advertising…changes the perception of everything.”
George Lois

Last night the local chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) had a special screening of the feature length documentary Art & Copy. The film was directed by Doug Pray and an official selection at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It’s a look at advertising and creative inspiration.

It’s currently playing in theaters in select cities and if you don’t catch it this time around make a point to pick it up when it comes out on DVD. It’s a super look behind the scenes of the people who wrote the words & campaigns that are forever imprinted in our brains:
“Got Milk?”
“Just Do It”
“Where’s the beef?”
“I  (heart) New York”

Over the years plenty of film and TV writers and directors have migrated from the advertising world. The the vast majority of advertising is not good or memorable but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. Advertising has been around since people were kicking stone tires and offers many opportunities for you to ply your trade as a writer and meet like-minded creatives. Feature film cinematographers often dip back into the advertising world for both financial and creative reasons.

Just remember that as someone points out in the film,”Great advertising is truthful.” So if you are going to work in advertising aim to be in that (what 2%?) minority. And even if you have no interest in writing ad copy (or even seeing another ad again in your life) I think you’ll benefit from watching Art & Copy and learning a little bit more about the creative process and the culture it has helped produce. (You’ll at least be surprised to learn where the creative inspiration came from for the slogan “Just do it.”)

I guess I should make my obligatory Midwest plug by pointing out that though Doug Pray now lives in L.A. (and who also directed the engaging documentary Surfwise) grew up in Madison, WI.

Related post: Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)

Scott W. Smith

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