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Posts Tagged ‘William Goldman’

“[Shane Black] isn’t Hollywood’s most prolific writer — he only has a handful of credits, including the first Lethal WeaponKiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Last Boy Scout— but for a time, he was its most highly paid, and the $4 million he earned for the 1996 action film The Long Kiss Goodnight is still a Hollywood record for a spec script. How did Black do it? Simple: He made reading his screenplays way too much fun.”
Kyle Buchanan
Why Iron Man 3 Director Shane Black Was Once Hollywood’s Hottest Screenwriter

“I recommend if you haven’t read it go back and read Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , the original screenplay by William Goldman who was sort of my mentor, my rabbi, along with James L. Brooks. There’s plenty to be found in these old writers especially Goldman. Walter Hill and William Goldman are two of my favorites and if you’re going to write screenplays, or if you already are and you want a boost or a shot in the arm—look at the structure, they way they’re written, the style of those two authors—Walter Hill and William Goldman— because between the two of them they account for the bulk of the stylistic stuff I do on the page as a writer.”
Writer/Director Shane Black speaking to students in Minneapolis in the above video

Here are a few examples pointed out in Kyle Buchanan’s Vulture article of Black’s writing style:

Joshua  and Riggs. Two soldiers. Their eyes lock. And you better hand on to your popcorn, boys and girls, because it’s about to get ugly.
Lethal Weapon

Dark. Depressing. Sprawl of furniture. Stack after stack of sports magazines. Drop all your belongings out of a plane. They will land like this.
The Last Boy Scout

The LEADER: a haggard-looking man sporting a soup stain on his tie, whoops, that’s the design, sorry.
The Long Kiss Goodnight

P.S. If you’ve never read William Goldman’s classic book Adventures in the Screen Trade make it your next read as it not only includes insights into screenwriting and the film industry, but his entire screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’ll give you a better jolt than a can of Red Bull—and cost about the same amount. (You can find a used copy on Amazon for under three bucks.)

Related post:

Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #65
Shane Black & Willie Mays (A word of warning on trying to copy Black’s style)
Meet Your First Audience (Tip #36)
Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (tip #22)

Scott W. Smith

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“I started out in newspapers, went on to narrative nonfiction magazine articles in the late 90’s, and then began trying my hand at screenwriting…In 2002, Kathryn Bigelow optioned a piece I did called ‘Jailbait.’ It became a short-lived TV show on Fox that she directed. That was really my introduction to television and film. Then I continued on the dual track I’m on now, trying to merge the two disciplines. This really started with The Hurt Locker, which was based on reporting, and continued with Zero Dark Thirty.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Interview with Rob Feld
The Hurt Locker: The Shooting Script 

Here’s a link to Boal’s article Jailbait which got the attention of Bigelow.

P.S. Back in 1995 Boal graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio where he majored in philosophy. In this 2010 talk at the school Boal told students, “You have to be willing to get your teeth kicked in continually before you achieve even a modicum of success. And once you achieve that you have to be willing to put up with a bunch of rejection before you can get anywhere.” (I don’t get too much criticism from this blog, but when it comes it’s usually in the form of, “you make this sound too hard to do.” I think Boal’s quote and Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg‘s similar quote—“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”—pretty much sum it up.

BTW—Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All the Presidents Men) graduated from Oberlin College with an English degree.

Related post:
Screenwriting Quote #126 (Mark Boal) Boal proves you don’t have to go to film school, but you do have to learn from others. (And it’s a bonus if those others are Oscar-winner Paul Haggis and Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow. The key is to write something good enough to get you in the room with that kind of talent.)
Hitchcock Loved The Hurt Locker
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip#2)
First screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Beatles, King, Cody & 10,000 Hours
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)

Scott W. Smith

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(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade


“I don’t know if you saw the parting of the Red Sea with the chariots on the horses, I did stuff like that.”
Richard Farnswort
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After I posted the above Goldman comment yesterday on the post titled Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” it jogged my memory of another story about a career transition—both fictional and real life. The Grey Fox was released in 1982 about a decade after Butch Cassidy, but there are some similarities, mostly the concept of change in the Old West.

Richard Farnsworth plays a former stagecoach robber who is released from San Quintin after serving 33 years for his crimes. When he gets out in 1903 it’s a new world—the stagescoaches are out and movies are in. His character, Bill Miner, goes to see The Great Train Robbery and is inspired to take up his old ways yet with a new fresh angle.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen the film so I’ll rely on Rodger Ebert’s account to bring us all up to speed:

“(The Great Train Robbery.) That famous movie is only eleven minutes long, but long enough to make everything absolutely clear to Miner, who realizes he has a new calling in life, as a train robber. All of this could, of course, be an innocuous Disney movie, but it’s well-written and directed, and what gives it zest and joy is the performance by Richard Farnsworth, who plays Miner. Maybe you’ll recognize Farnsworth when you see him on the screen. Maybe not. His life has been one of those careers that makes you realize Hollywood is a company town, where you can make a living for years and never be a star. Farnsworth has been in more than three hundred movies.”
Roget Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times, The Grey Fox
January 1. 1982

Though Farnsworth had been in more than 300 films, they were mostly as a stuntman. He doubled for some of Hollywood’s most well-known actors; Roy Rogers, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Henry Ford, Montgomery Clift, and Steve McQueen. You think he might have picked up a thing or two about acting from those fellows because after 30 years as a stuntman he began acting.

And he did it well enough to receive a Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination in 1979 for his role in Comes a Horseman and another Oscar nomination for Lead Actor in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (that was filmed right here in Iowa). He was 79 at the time of the nomination making him the oldest actor to ever receive a best actor nomination.

You may also remember his roles in The Natural, The Two Jakes, and Misery. I had the good fortune to meet Richard Farnsworth at a movie theater in Burbank some time in the 80s. Nothing exciting, he was just standing in front of me waiting to buy popcorn or whatever.

“Are you Richard Farnsworth?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I appreciate your work.”
“Thank You.”

He smiled and we shook hands. This was in the days before IMDB so I didn’t know in that simple exchange I was shaking hands with a man who was a real life Forrest Gump in the film industry having been in some legendary Hollywood productions;   Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, The Ten Commandments, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Roots, Bonanza, The Wild One,  Blazing Saddles, Spartacus and many others.

That means to one degree or another he worked with John Wayne, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Mel Brooks, Howard Hawks,  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Cecil B. DeMille.

I don’t know how long stuntman work on a regular basis in Hollywood, but it has to take its toll on your body.  Farnsworth’s last credit as a stuntman was 1975 when he would have been 55. He was almost 60 when his acting career took off. He changed with the times.

By the way, the screenwriter of The Grey Fox, John Hunter,  was no spring chicken himself and was 71 when the movie was released.

Oh yeah, Farnsworth did stunts in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, too.

Scott W. Smith


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“I don’t know if any studio would make Butch Cassidy today.”
William Goldman

When I was a kid there was a place in Florida called Six Gun Territory that was an old west theme park near Ocala. They had a rail road, a saloon complete with can-can dancers, old-time photo studio, and most importantly they staged bank robberies and shootouts in the street. I still remember being around 9-years-old and the feel and the sound of walking on the gravel streets wearing cowboy boots.

I have many fond memories of that place and even shot my first 16mm film there. I remember ending that film paying homage to The Great Train Robbery by ending with a shot of a gunfighter shooting into the camera for no other reason than I thought it looked cool.

Every time I watch the opening scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I think of Six Gun Territory. I don’t know if that was the first movie I ever saw set in the old west but I know it’s the one I go back to the most. It’s also the second highest rated western (after High Noon) on AFI’s top 100 films (1997) joining just a handful of other  Westerns that  made the list (Shane, Stagecoach, The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven).

Paul Newman and Robert Redford speaking screenwriter William Goldman’s words—that’s great stuff.  It took Goldman eight years to write the script which paid him a record fee up to that date of $400,000.  He also took home the Oscar for the 1970 film.

I sometimes watch favorite films with the sound off to get a different perspective. The movie holds up well without the great banter (“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”) With the sound off you follow the story easily and it plays as a visually stunning action film. (Though personally I could do without the trendy zoom lens shots.)

On this viewing I also realized that it perfectly matches Goldman’s “stay with the money” theory. Studios pay actors a lot of money, because audiences pay money to see stars. How many scenes do you think there are in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that don’t include Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and/or the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford)? The grand total is…zero. In fact, there is one scene where the town’s men talk about what to do about these bank robbers, and it’s more humorous by having Butch and Sundance listening to the discussion from a hotel balcony. Stay with the money.

“The essential opening labor a screenwriter must execute is, of course, deciding what the proper structure should be for the particular screenplay you are writing. And to do that, you have to know what is absolutely crucial in the telling of your story—what is its spine? Whatever it is, you must protect it to the death…(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman 

Adventures in the Screen Trade

If I recall my philosophy class correctly, it was Heraclitus who said a long, long time ago that “you can’t step in the same river twice.” I think the times are always changing and that’s a good thing to realize. It was true of the old west, and it’s true of the new west, the Midwest, Key West—wherever you live. “The times they are a-changin’.”

By the way, Six Gun Territory pre-dated Disney World but closed in 1984. The land where it sat is now a strip mall. If you want to survive….

Scott W. Smith

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In all of the many books I’ve read on screenwriting and screenwriters I don’t recall the name Peter Stone being mentioned once. Perhaps that’s because his films, mostly written in the 60s and 70s, aren’t the most timeless classics from his era—but he did win an Oscar for co-writing Father Goose (1965). In fact, I believe Stone was the first writer to win an Oscar, and Emmy and a Tony. (Even today that’s a small list.) One of the most popular and enduring films that he worked on was Charade (1963) starring Cary Grant. And the script for Sweet Charity (starring Shirley MacLaine and directed by Bob Fossee) was written by Stone, and still has a fan base.

Contemporary writers may know Stone as the screenwriter of the original movie The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1976). Stone had a solid background not only having a father (John Stone) who was a screenwriter and producer of more than 100 films, but he earned a Master’s degree from Yale. He died in 2003, but fortunately we have a glimpse of some of his views on writing from his audio commentary on the Charade DVD. There the Oscar, Tony and Emmy winning writer talks about one form of writing that didn’t mesh with his skill set.

“When I couldn’t sell the original screenplay (for Charade) I was advised by my wife, and my agent concurred, to turn it into a novel. I had never written a novel and it was in the course of writing the novel that I came to realized that I had no ability for writing novels at all. It’s a different set of muscles. There are very, very few people who can write dramatic material and narrative prose. Very few. Chekhov could do it. There are some today who can do it. Richard Price can do it. Crichton. They just call on a different set of muscles. One is descriptive and uses language in a way that dramatic material does not.

Dramatic material—everything has to be revealed through behavior, that’s all you have to reveal it with. And description plays such a small part in it. It’s just a different set of muscles at work and I don’t have them, or I never developed them, or I wasn’t interested in them or something. But I sure discovered it immediately. So it was a rotten novel.”
Peter Stone
Charade DVD commentary

That in part explains why Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck never thrived in Hollywood. Is there sufficient proof to say that novelist trying to become screenwriters or screenwriters trying to become novelist leads to excessive drinking? Stone boils it all down for us: It’s simply “a different set of muscles.”

Related Post (as someone who has done well writing novels and screenplays); William Goldman Stands Alone

Scott W. Smith

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In 2001, William Goldman, who wrote the novel and the screenplay for The Princess Bride, recorded a DVD commentary for the fairly tale movie having not seen the film since it first came out in 1987.  Here are a few excerpts;

“The novel was around for a long, long time before it was finally made into a movie and I never thought the movie would happen and I was wrong.”

“It’s very hard to make a quality movie. Every time you come out with one it’s a miracle, because everything is conspiring against you.”

“The book was written in ’73 and in ’74 20th Century Fox decided to make  a movie, but they weren’t sure it was a movie. But we stuck a deal, they bought the book and I owned the screenplay. And they would buy the screenplay if they decided to make the movie. ..I did a draft for myself, and I did a draft for them…and the studio liked it and we would have come out in ’75 except the studio head got fired. And when that happens, when the new studio head comes in he is determined that anything that the old studio head got greenlit as they say would never get made, because if it did get made and was a hit, people would snicker at him knowing that it wasn’t his movie…The movie almost got made two or three times.

(Note: The film was finally made about ten years after that initial start and released in 1987. It would be hard to imagine the movie as we know it without with the cast Rob Reiner put together including;  Andre the Giant, Wally Shawn, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin,  Robin Wright Penn.)

“Even as you look at it now (The Princess Bride) is an odd movie. And I’m just thrilled it got made. That’s a big deal for me. This is my theory…movies are successes because people like them, movies are failures because people don’t like them. Everything else is mythology. All the stuff you read about this movie being a hit, this movie is a flop—total bull. They have no idea before a movie opens what’s going to happen. And this movie, people that went to it loved it., and they would tell their friends…By the time it came out on cassettes it was the hit it should have been I think when it was in theaters. We’re lucky this all happened because when you have a movie that you like and it doesn’t find the audience you hoped for it’s heartbreaking. Because you don’t get it that many times.”

“One of the things about (The Princess Bride/ 98 minutes) is it’s short. George Roy Hill said if you can’t tell your story in an hour fifty you better be David Lean. I think movies are disgracefully long now. I think part of it is director’s ego. I think part of its people think if it’s long it’s equated with important  which is total madness.  I thought this movie went right along, we didn’t really leave anything out.    This is what we wrote, this is what we shot, this is what you saw.

William Goldman
Two-time Oscar winning screenwriter (All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)


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This weekend I picked up the book Tales from the Script; 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman. The book flows from a 105-minute film that is a series of interviews with–I’m guessing 50–screenwriters including Shane Black (Lethal Weapon),  Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Visit the Tales from the Script website to learn about screenings in L.A. and New York in March or to order the DVD which will begin shipping also in March.

The book is full of more quotes that reinforce what I’ve been blogging about here for the last two years. I’ll pull a few quotes from it this week beginning right here:

“The first screenplay you write is rarely going to be sold and made into a movie, but it might be a good sample to get you hired to write something else. I probably wrote a dozen scripts before I ever got paid to do one.”
Screenwriter Mick Garris (The Stand, Amazing Stories, Master of Horror)

Scott W. Smith

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