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Posts Tagged ‘Writers Guild of America’

Think I can segue from two previous posts about Bridesmaids to one about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?

No problem. In Bridesmaids there is a scene where the lead character’s life is falling a part and her mother tells her to watch the movie Cast Away saying, “It’s like Forrest Gump on a deserted island.” Forrest Gump was written by Eric Roth, the same writer as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

I think I’ve written something about every Academy Award-nominated Best Picture and/or its writers except for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. So I’m cramming for finals before the Oscars Sunday night. Here’s an exchange found in the article, ‘Extremely Loud’ Screenwriter On Turning The Novel Into A Film;

Eric Herschthal: A common trope is that no one can capture the tragedy of the Holocaust in art. Do you see something similar happening with Sept. 11 works of art?

Eric Roth: “First off, I don’t like to compare anything to the Holocaust. [Director Stanley] Kubrick. said you can’t make a movie out of the Holocaust; it’s too visceral to capture on film. I think he’s right. But I think you can make stories about grief, about loss, and how you deal with them. That’s what I tried to do.”

Roth received and Oscar-nominated for his script. He’s had a three other screenplay Oscar-nominations:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (shared with Robin Swicord)
Munich (shared with Tony Kushner)
The Insider (Shared with Michael Mann)
Forrest Gump (Sole screenwriting credit and an his sole Oscar win)

A few days ago Roth received the 2012 Laurel Award for Screen, lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures, from the  Writers Guild of America, West.

“In a career that spans over four decades, Eric Roth’s work – from Forrest Gump to The Insider, Ali, The Good Shepard, Benjamin Button, and this year’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – has traced the larger span of our history and the smaller, individual arcs of the human life. With poetry and humor, he has illuminated time and love and moral responsibility. He has made going to the movies both a stirring emotional education and a true joy.”
WGAW President Christopher Keyser

Quirky facts about Roth: According to IMDB, he wrote one of Kurosawa‘s last films (Rhapsody in August), and his daughter, Vanessa Roth, won an Academy Award (Best Documentary Short) in 2008 for her film Freeheld.

Related posts:
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
Change the Weather (Tip #44)

Scott W. Smith

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Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again
Say goodbye to Hollywood

Billy Joel
Say Goodbye to Hollywood

There is a lot of finger pointing going on in the film & TV business right now. (As I write this L.A. County has an unemployment rate of 12.7%, and the film industry has not been spared. The Writer’s Guild of America reported for the fiscal year 2009 that screenwriter’s earnings decreased 31%. )

Who and what is to actually blame for Hollywood’s economic downturn that has resulted in fewer script sales and a greater loss of production jobs? Is it the general downturn in the economy or the rising cost of production? Is it the tax incentives that states outside L.A. and even countries outside the U.S. are giving to lure business away from California? Is it the Internet and the fact that spending two hours on Facebook is more interesting than many two hour movies?

Yes. It’s all the above and more.

Once upon a time there was this company called Fotomat. (Yes, I’ve written about Fotomat before but it is a favorite metaphor of mine.) They started in the 60s, seemed like they were everywhere in the 70s, but by by 1980 they had peaked. Their little yellow huts in parking lots were cultural icons back in the day. Now they’re cultural relicis and every once in a while you can spot an old converted Fotomat building that is now converted into a coffee hut or a wind-tinting business. What happened to Fotomat? Well, it’s pretty simple.

They niche they careved out was turning around photos in one day. That was cutting edge in the 70s, but as one hour photo places starting gaining ground in the 80s and then the digital boom in the 90s they had nothing to stand on. (The chant “Obsolete! Obsolete” from the The Twilight Zone (1961) episode The Obsolete Man comes to mind.) In an instant world there wasn’t a big demand for people wanting to get their photos the next day.

From 1800-1840 Nantucket was the “Whaling Capital of the World.” Youngstown, Ohio was once the seventh largest steel producer in the nation. My grandfather used to work for the Youngstown Sheet & Tube and I found an old book the company put together in 1950 to celebrate 50 years in the steel industry. In the opening paragraph of the book there is this line, “This Company looks forward to another fifty years, and then another, ad infinitum….” There wasn’t a Youngstown Sheet & Tube around to celebrate in the year 2000.

Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world’s changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
Youngstown
Bruce Springsteen

I’ll spend the next few days looking at how Hollywood got to be Hollywood and then look from a creative and economic standpoint at where I think screenwriting, production and distribution is all heading.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“The Wilder message is don’t bore – don’t bore people.”
                                                    Billy Wilder

 

By the time Billy Wilder directed Sunset Boulevard he had already worked on over 40 feature films. He had already been nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two for his work on The Lost Weekend. It’s safe to say that Wilder knew what he was doing when he made Sunset Boulevard which would bring him another Oscar as one of the movie’s three writers.  A few years ago when the Writer’s Guild of America picked the best 101 screenplays of all-time they listed Sunset Boulevard at #7.

So just in case you aren’t that familiar with the film I wanted you to know the importance of the script and film. If you’ve read the post Screenwriting by the Numbers you’ll see how Sunset Boulevard perfectly fits the classic three-act structure. Heck, Wilder even fades to black so the audience doesn’t miss the act breaks. (A nod to the theater when the curtain would go down at act breaks.) 

Here’s my breakdown of the movie and how it measures up with some things I’ve written about in the past. (It’s best read if you’ve seen the film because there are some spoilers mentioned. And this is a film that every writer should watch multiple times.)

Sunset Boulevard has 57 scenes. (40-60 is average for most feature films.)

Sunset Boulevard runs 110 minutes. Which averages around 2 minutes a scene. (Most features tend to run 90-120 minutes.)

Only three scenes are over three minutes in length and they are saved for key moments. (If characters move from one part of the house to the next and it’s a different camera set-up I mark that as a scene break.) 

There are two main characters (Norma Desmond & Joe Gillis). 

William Holden, who plays Gillis, is in almost every scene in the film. (“Stay with the money” is the old Hollywood saying.)

There are three reoccurring supporting characters  (Max, Nancy, Artie).

Except for the long voice-overs of Joe Gillis, most dialogue is three lines or less. 

There are three acts. Act 1 ends at 26:51, Act 2 ends at 75:48 min., and Act 3 ends, of course, at the end of the film 110 minutes. (Though the script does indicate they worked in five different sequences marking them “A,” “B”, “C”, “D” and “E.” so one could argue a five-act structure.)

There is one main story (Gillis writing Norma’s script and becoming a boy toy in the process) and three subplots. The subplot with Nancy ties directly to the main plot and the climax of the film. The youthful Nancy new to Hollywood also offers a contrast to Norma, the aging movie star.

Almost every scene has conversation with three people or less. 

A good amount of the scenes are just two people talking.

Norma’s house is one giant set piece and where most of the story takes place.

The film is a mix of drama, comedy, action, satire, melodrama and film noir.

Gillis’ lack of work and money sets the story in motion. (Read the post Gordon Gekko vs. Paul Newman)

The title is literal and metaphorical as it is the name of a street in L.A. where Norma lives and sunset also represents her fading career/life. “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.”

Contrasts is used throughout the film;  interior/exterior scenes, day/night scenes, theme of rich/poor, old/young, small apartment/huge mansion.

Coincidence is used early in the film to put Gillis at Norma’s house.

Exposition is sprinkled throughout the film with Max’s little secret coming when toward the end of the film when it would have most impact.

The ending is ironic. Gillis gets his pool and Norma gets back in the spotlight. Though what they get is not in the way they thought they’d get it.  He’s dead and she’s off to jail. (On top of that her desired close-up is out of focus.)

Of course, it was the solid writing during the 110 minutes that sets the film a part. That is the hard part. But I did want to show you the simplicity of limiting characters and locations as the writers Charles Brackett, D.M Marshman, Jr, and Wilder did on their way to creating screen magic. 

The bottom line is study the masters.

Bonus low-budget production tip; To get the famous shot of Joe Gillis floating face down dead in the pool with the police looking down on him was shot by placing a mirror in the pool under the floating body and shooting down into the mirror.  They found that having a water temp of 40 degrees added the right mix of visual clarity with a hint of distortion. 

 

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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Sure screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was born in New York and attended Boston University and NYU but perhaps the secret of his success is (get ready for Midwest connection) he lived in Minneapolis in the late 80s for more than four years working in the circulation department at the Star Tribune.

According to the Being Charlie Kaufman website Kaufman said, “I would take missed-newspaper calls at 5 in the morning. It was a hard job, especially in the winter. I’d get up at 4 and take the bus downtown. It was freezing and everybody looked really sad on the bus. I worked at the art institute as well. I was the person who said ‘The museum will be closing in 15 minutes’ over the loudspeaker.”

That’s that ole’ Midwest work ethic for ya.

I’m not sure what lead him to Minneapolis but that’s where he was before he moved to LA in 1991 eventually going on to win an Academy Award in 2005 for best original script (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ) as well as two additional Oscar nominations in 2003 (Adaptation) and 2002 (Being John Malkovich). And according to the critics Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, that he directed as well as wrote, is said to be lining up for more awards this year.  

For someone who has said that he doesn’t know what a third act is he’s done pretty well for himself. I recently discovered some videos online that have been produced by the Writers Guild of America and today’s screenwriting quote comes from an interview I saw there with Kaufman (I’ve smoothed over some stumbles):

“I don’t really have any advice because I feel like the circumstance that I find myself in I think is attributable to luck to a large extent. I wrote for a lot of years in obscurity, and I wrote the script Being John Malcovich which got me attention but was never going to be made, and I got the lucky break of Spike Jonze being interested in making it and having the power at that point in his career to get a movie made that nobody wanted to get made. The only thing I can say is if you’ve got a thing that you’re exploring, then explore it truthfully. I mean if you want to do that and are interested in doing what you want to do in the world, then do it.”
                                                                                          Charlie Kaufman
                                                                                          
WGA/ Angle On

So for Kaufman the road to an Academy Award took him through waking up at 4 in the morning to catch a bus downtown and a lot years of writing in obscurity.  While his screenplays are unique, you’ll find that his long and winding road to success is quite common. 

By the way, I think the definition of luck is writing “for a lot years in obscurity.”  Even Diablo Cody who found success with her first screenplay spent well over a decade writing in obscurity.

Scott W. Smith

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