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Posts Tagged ‘Where do ideas come from’

“America was born as a rebel country, and Americans have always had a soft spot for the outlaw.”
Professor Maurice Yacowar
Married to the Mob by Mark Sauer

One of my favorite discovers since starting this blog in 2008 is being able to find the connective tissues between ideas, scenes, ideas, characters and sometimes entire stories found in movies and TV shows. Often writers are open about their influences and yet other times plead ignorance for similarities.

Many critics said The Sopranos was indebted to Goodfellas—I can’t remember who called it “the companion guide to Goodfellas.” But there is a key element to The Sopranos that I think was taken from Donnie Brasco. Much was made about how fresh and original it was for Tony Soprano—a mobster—to go therapy.

But Johnny Depp’s character in Donnie Brasco is an undercover agent who has infiltrated the mafia. And when what started out as a six month FBI assignment starts turning into years it causes friction at home with his wife. Like a military man or a truck driver his lifestyle is somewhat unorthodox, yet there is something about the job that he loves. In the scene below his wife (Maggie played by Anne Heche) says tells her husband that he’s becoming like the mobsters he’s investigating.

Eventually Depp’s character’s wife says she wants a divorce. He tells her, “There hasn’t been a divorce in my family since back to Julius Caesar. Divorce someone else.” They settle on going to marriage counseling.

The Sopranos first aired in 1999 , Donnie Brasco was released in 1997. Here’s the beginning of the first counseling scene from a Donnie Brasco script dated 1992.

INT. DAY. OFFICE

SHELLY BERGER, late 40s, flannel shirt, earth shoes -- PSYCHOTHERAPIST -- 
sits with Donnie and Maggie.

                                     MAGGIE
                         ...He comes home at all hours of the 
                         night, without announcing when or 
                         why, or where he's been for three 
                         weeks. Or three months. Then he 
                         expects everything to be just the 
                         way he wants it. He vacuums the entire 
                         house. Do you know another man who 
                         vacuums? It's abnormal. Of course, 
                         he expects the girls to drop their 
                         lives when he shows up...

                                     DONNIE
                         I'm their father, Maggie. I ring 
                         that doorbell I expect them home.

                                     MAGGIE
                         They think it's a Jehovah's witness.
                              (to Berger)
                         You'd think he'd tell me where he 
                         goes or what he's doing --

                                     DONNIE
                         That's for your own protection.

                                     MAGGIE
                         Ha!
                              (to Berger)
                         I know he's cheating on me --

While Donnie Brasco screenwriter Paul Attanasio used the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life as his foundation, he said the counseling concept came from his imagination. This doesn’t take any thing away from what the great David Chase created with The Sopranos, it just helps us understand how the creative process works.

And since Donnie Brasco was not a made man in the Mafia, but FBI agent Joe Pistone that means the Tony Soprano—unless there is a film/TV show I’m unfamiliar with—was technically the first Mafia man depicted in a counseling setting. File it under, “the same thing only different.”

In my post Where Do Ideas Come From? I quoted James Young Webb, “ An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Orson Welles all acknowledged they built on what came before them.

P.S. Of course, Attanasio including a romance into Donnie Brasco accomplished many things including adding pressure (i.e. conflict) in Donnie Brasco/Joe Pistone’s. (On top of his pressure of some in the FBI questioning the operation, pressure from the mob itself, life or death circumstances if his cover is blow, and conflict with himself over his relationship with mobster Lefty Ruggiero, who will be killed or go to prison because of the undercover operations.

The Mike Newell directed film was not a box office hit when it first came out, but it has aged very well.

But about that husband/wife element of Donnie Brasco, Oscar and Emmy-winning director Sydney Pollack once stated something to the effect that each of his film always had a romance element. Certainly true of Out of Africa, The Electric Horseman, The Way We Were, and Tootsie.

P.P.S. I was enjoying The Dialogue series that was put on You Tube, but it went dark yesterday. Anyone know why. It now says those videos are private. If anyone knows why please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com.

Related Post:
(Note: While I’ve used the term cloning before, I now prefer the concept of sampling to describe what goes on in connecting movies.)
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”) Some of the DNA of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Movie Cloning (Pirates) Some of the DNA of Pirates of Caribbean.
Movie Cloning (Part1) 

Scott W. Smith



					

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“As a script reader, I noticed that every variation of Die Hard had sold. Not all of them got made, but they all sold.”
Michael France (On what led him to write Cliffhanger on spec)

One of the fun things about doing a small niche blog like this is making all kinds of odd connections, which I believe is what creativity is all about. (See the post Where Do Ideas Come From?)

For instance, as I mentioned yesterday I flew out of the Tampa airport and learned that the first commercial flight ever was between St. Pete and Tampa. That led me to learn that screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) was not only born in St. Pete Beach, but lives there today. Not only that, but he owns an old movie theater there which is currently playing the Jason Reitman/George Clooney film Up in the Air that I spent several days blogging about recently. In one of those posts I mentioned that Walter Kirn, who wrote the novel Up in the Air, was once married to and has two kids with the daughter of Thomas McGuane. Well, it turns out that I found an interview with Michael France where he said his favorite book is The Buchwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane.

One big interconnected world.

In an interview with Stax at ING, France was asked, “What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment to date?

“I took this question a couple of different ways. My first response to this is, managing my writing career so that I’m able to live where I want – which is waaaaay out of L.A. – and spend my off hours with my wife and kids on the beach. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, and it allows me to live the way I want to, so…that’s important to me personally. But I think you probably mean artistically, so I’ll take my head out of the beach for a minute. When I was writing Hulk, I wanted to make Bruce Banner an extremely complex, emotionally sealed off character, and to make his relationship with Betty romantic but still tragic. Those dynamics are difficult to make credible even when you’re not bringing in large science fiction ideas – but I tried to make that work in balance with the large scale action scenes that you have to have with Hulk.”
Michael France

To be fair, France did do time in New York & L.A., but a screenwriter “waaaaay out of L.A.”—huh, what an interesting concept. (Of course, to pull that off, it doesn’t hurt to have a few blockbuster films to your name and Marvel’s Stan Lee in your address book.)

Though I’ve never met France, I bet in that funky, creative way our paths have crossed somewhere. We’re the same age so it may have been that Jimmy Buffett concert I went to at the University of Florida campus (where France went to school) in the early 80s (Coconut Telegraph tour if I remember correctly), maybe somewhere in L.A., but most likely it would have been St. Pete Beach where I’ve spent much time visiting over the last 30 years. In fact, I shot part of a commercial there last summer.

One thing is sure, the next time I’m down that way, I’m going to catch a movie at France’s Beach Theater after my regular fried grouper stop at The Hurricane.

Scott W. Smith

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When John Brady interviewed Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader one of his questions was “What’s the toughest part when you’re writing?”

Schrader: “Getting an idea. A metaphor. Having one or two lines that describe a film—that’s the hardest part. Once you get that, if you have any common sense, you can execute it.”

                                                       The Craft of the Screenwriter
                                                        Interviews with Six Celebrated Screenwriters
                                                        by John Brady
                                                        Page 282 

 

Check out the much longer post Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)

 


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